In this article, I’m going to cover what a “Nolo” drink is, talk about NA (non-alcoholic) beers and kombucha. I’m also going to give my recommendation if you should stay away from these drinks or not since some of them do contain trace amounts of alcohol.
Side note – I feel more influencers, bloggers, podcasters need to cover controversial topics in recovery. Should we avoid NA beers that still contain small amounts of alcohol, does cannabis plays in recovery, and where does plant medicines such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, and ibogaine fit in recovery?
In episode 170, I came out about my experience with ayahuasca despite knowing I would face some intense criticism, which I did. I still feel it’s an incredibly powerful resource, and not sharing it with the audience wouldn’t be true to my mission.
Recently I heard from a blogger in this space who tried ayahuasca for the first time and they said it was the most powerful resource they have come across. I then said, “wow, I’m so happy with you, shoot me the link when you share your experience with the audience, I’m excited to read about it.” They responded with, I don’t have any plans about going public with it. I didn’t answer back, but my inner response was…. Weak. But I get it, I’m sure I’ll get some flack about the position I take with kombucha and non- alcoholic beers.
Speaking of Ayahuasca, I’m hoping to get dates set up for another trip to Rythmia in Costa Rica for later this year or early next. Email me a email@example.com if you’re interested in joining.
As you may know, I have a book titled Alcohol is Shit, so it may come as a surprise for me to admit, there are some excellent uses for alcohol.
What is alcohol good for?
1. It does have a place in the medical field. It does a great job of killing bacteria and sterilizing things.
2. It’s a highly flammable fuel. It can power a car, a train, or a rocket.
Apart from that, alcohol is shit. People are waking up to the fact alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen, and ingesting the poison can cause significant havoc on internal bodily systems. So a trend is emerging. People are drinking less alcohol. Especially younger folks. Also, consumers are switching to more non or low alcohol content drinks.
People in masses are starting to recognize that alcohol kills 88,000 people per year in just the US alone, causes ulcers, sexual problems, Vitamin B deficiency, apathy, gastritis, malnutrition, nerve damage, liver disease, alcohol poisoning, acute making an ass out of yourself disorder, and a barrage of other things that nobody wants.
People are consuming less alcohol
Sales of no or low alcohol beer (this is where the term “nolo” comes from) is up 30% since 2016. This trend is especially popular with 18-24 year olds. Another fantastic statistic with this age group is that the number of 18-24-year-olds who report they don’t drink at all, increased by 6% last year alone, to 23% in total. Wow, you get a lot of flack millennials, but good on you.
According to the craft brewers’ trade organization, “Nolo” alcohol is set to be one of the driving trends of 2020.
The report is forecasting that no alcohol, low alcohol, and “free-from” beers are set to be one of the fastest-growing parts of the market in 2020, with under 35s choosing low alcohol versions of drinks for a quiet night in or to accompany meals.
Consumers are more conscious of their physical and mental health than ever, and this has driven the fall in alcohol consumption, especially among young people.
Here’s another promising figure – Growth in beer sales is slowing, with total beer sales in 2019 rising by 1.1%, compared with 2.6% growth a year earlier. And The report also indicated a slight increase in the overall number of people who never drink alcohol, with 17% saying they were teetotalers, compared to 16% a year earlier. That’s roughly 3.5 million more people who don’t drink.
I share this with you in hopes of reminding you that you’re not alone. That more people than ever are questioning the role that alcohol is playing in their lives. People are taking addiction seriously and recognize it’s not something that younger people even want to mess with. When millennials say “Yolo” they aren’t including alcohol addiction.
People, just like myself and you, are consciously making the decision to not drink something that will make you less conscious, less alive, and less vibrant. I choose, and I know you do as well, vitality.
Okay, let’s cover non- alcoholic beer. Legally, they can market it as non-alcoholic if it contains less than .5% of alcohol. So, non-alcoholic beer isn’t correct since it contains alcohol. Thank you, FDA. And you might need to ditch the booze if you just calculated how many NA beers you’ll need to drink to relive the glory days. Now, good on you Heineken and UK Based Smashed Lager for making a true 0.0 NA beer.
Now before I give you my opinion, my stance on NA beers, lets first cover why you want to drink an NA beer. Is it the taste? That there are small amounts of alcohol? To blend in? To not be asked why you aren’t drinking? Personally, I never drank beer, wine, or hard liquor for the taste. I drank for effect. I can think of about 74 other drinks that taste significantly better than NA beers, all of which don’t contain alcohol.
Soda water, with a splash of cranberry and a lime wedge, is at the top of the list. Another one is called the “Dustimosa.” You take a couple of sips out of a La Croix, or Buble can, and then fill back up with cranberry, orange, or grapefruit juice.
This is how I treat NA beers. I don’t drink them. Not because I don’t want to flirt with the idea of trace alcohol amounts in my system, but I prefer the taste of other beverages. Now there have been several times when someone hosts a party, and they get me a six-pack of NA beers. Out of generosity, I’ll always have 1. One time, someone got me and my friend, Dusty, he was interviewed in episode 206, Busch NA’s to play flip cup with everyone so we’d feel included.
My stance on NA beers, unless it’s a true 0.0% – stay away. You can find better tasting alternatives, and you don’t want to rattle the cage. It’s not worth it. I once heard a story from a guy who’s wife only allowed him to have NA beers in the house. So each night, he would go into the garage and drink 25-30 NA beers…
Again, my unequivocal stance is, stay away from NA beers that contain trace amounts of alcohol. If you end up having all six beers in under an hour, there’s a good chance you’ll feel it, and crave more.
Now let’s cover kombucha. What is kombucha? And why is it so popular in the US right now? According to Kombucha Brewers International, kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that’s made by adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). This solution of tea and sugar produces various compounds, including alcohol and acetic acid, the primary flavor of vinegar.
Kombucha helps support healthy liver function and assists the liver in the detoxification process by making fat-soluble toxins water-soluble. A recent study found recovering alcoholics with higher gut bacteria diversity were more successful at staying sober. There is a strong gut-brain connection, and drinking kombucha strengthens that connection by increasing the number of healthy gut bacteria. 80% of serotonin is created in the gut when healthy gut bacteria and function are present.
I also want to mention, if you had a sandwich or burger for lunch today, you most likely had more alcohol than a Kombucha. Burger rolls have almost 1.3% alcohol, and a ripe banana or pear has about .4% alcohol. How far down do you want to draw this line in the sand?
With kombucha, my take, my stance, my opinion is… Have a kombucha for lunch. Greenlight. But make sure, if you’re at a kombucha brewery, it’s less than .5% or ideally 0.0%. I feel the health benefits outweigh the risks with a kombucha. Plus, for some reason, the thought of chugging 12 kombuchas at lunch makes my stomach stir.
What sometimes sneaks up on me with kombucha is the caffeine. If I have one for dinner, it usually keeps me up at night. So keep that in mind.
To go a little deeper with this article, the overarching problem isn’t alcohol. At first, it is when we are physically addicted. But after it’s been out of the system for a while, it’s about finding healthier ways to regulate inner discomfort without an external substance like wine, beer, spirits sex, shopping gambling, or kombucha. Awareness of what’s happening internally is significantly more important than avoiding kombucha.
I’m going to cover the techniques I use to ground myself when I’m having a rough day, or am feeling anxious. Let’s face it, there can be times in sobriety when we find ourselves taking things one day at a time (ODAAT), or one hour at a time (OHAAT), or one minute at a time (OMAAT). Sometimes on this journey, we’ll find ourselves logging days in our sobriety tracker apps like it’s no thang! Other days, we wake up and quickly realize keeping the mind in check will be a constant struggle. So here are some of my favorite techniques I use to ground myself, to pull myself back into the body, away from the mind and into the present moment.
- Acknowledge what is happening – Anxiety is great at tricking you into believing that something is real. So all these fear-based thoughts you are having are simply that: thoughts. Thoughts aren’t real. Once you acknowledge this and say “wait a second” I’m not going to die, and in a couple of hours, one or two days tops, this will all be fine.”
- Think in terms of we. Which of these two sentences sound better – 1. I am struggling right now. 2. We are struggling right now. Most of us orientate our thoughts to the individual self, but science is showing, we receive a great benefit when we think of terms of “we” which isn’t a lie because we are all connected. It’s totally fine to struggle on this journey, but there is no need to struggle alone.
- Take your shoes off and walk outside barefooted. This is literally called grounding or earthing. You, all people, animals, plants, and inanimate objects are electrical beings living in an electrical world. Everything that’s made of atoms (so…everything) has a net charge that’s either positive, negative, or neutral. Grounding means discharging built-up static electricity either directly into the earth. The earth has a negative charge, and you have a positive charge. Walking barefooted in grass, or on the beach allows you to release an excess of unbalanced energy. If you’re pacing back and forth with anxiety, do it outside without shoes. You’ll instantly start to feel better. There are several books written on this topic that shed light on why earthing is so powerful!
- Usually, when we find ourselves spinning out, we’re moving too fast. We’re rushing through the day seeking ways to mitigate inner turmoil, but we’re going to fast to find what we’re looking for. As Jane Wagner would say, “for fast-acting relief, slow down.” Usually, when we are in this perpetual “crazed” state, all tasks are done as a means to an end and little quality or presence is attached to any duties. I always tell myself, if you want to get somewhere fast, go slow. When I encounter a flight of stairs, I make a point to climb or descend the staircase slowly, making conscious contact with each stair. When I park my car, I wait till I see the clouds moving before exiting the vehicle.
- Do not multitask – Studies show that human beings are terrible at multitasking. If you find yourself talking at the phone, and sending an email or text at the same time, most likely you’re not doing any of these tasks well.
- You are nature, so take a time out, and go be in your natural setting. Ideally, pick a location with a soundtrack such as a stream, birds chirping, or the sound of the wind in the trees. Ideally, I try to go for a hike or walk in nature without shoes. Almost all of these grounding techniques can be done in tandem!
- When I’m not feeling grounded, I start paying close attention to where this feeling is located in the body, more specifically in the stomach and solar plexus area. Almost always, I recognize this region is tensed up and tight. When I feel anxious, I notice my stomach muscles are always flexed, and my breathing becomes shallow. Once I’m aware of this, I can start breathing from the belly and relaxation sets in.
- Stop saying I CAN do this, because you ARE doing this. It doesn’t matter where you currently find yourself on this journey into sobriety, you ARE doing this!
- Go with the gut. 11 billion bits of information bombard your energy field every millisecond and most report to the gut area and not your head. Always trust the gut/intuition on where to go next, even if it seems like a 180 from what the mind is saying.
- I tell myself “this isn’t me.” A couple of months ago, I found myself unable to fall back asleep because my mind wouldn’t stop going. It was frustrating and I deeply needed sleep since I had a busy day ahead of me. After about 30 minutes of the mind trying to solve every problem on the planet, I finally said, “Paul, this isn’t you.” and within a matter of minutes, I was asleep. As Michael Singer says in “The Untethered Soul.” you are not the voice inside the head, but the one who hears it!
These grounding techniques are highly effective when the edge of life is sharp, or when we experience a craving to drink alcohol. I encourage you to practice these before an emotional rollercoaster arrives so you’re better prepared to ride out the uncomfortable feelings or cravings. Let me know in the comments what helps you get grounded.
I was in a bookstore at the airport the other day and noticed a trend while looking at the top twenty best sellers. There were several books with clear, unambiguous titles. Our society collectively is starting to wake up and is looking for ways to unfuck themselves. These are the book titles I saw that were all clumped right next to each other.
UnFu*ck yourself by Gary John Bishop
I used to be a miserable Fu*ck by John Kim
Calm the Fuck down – Sarah Knight
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck Mark Manson
After a quick Amazon search, I found several more books with similar titles such as
Unfuck your Brain by Faith Harper
Unfuck Yourself by Zoe Swain
I’m currently writing a book about alcohol addiction, and I’m not 100% sure of what my book title will be, but it may have the words unfu*ck yourself somewhere on the cover. I want to be clear, I had this written down on my list of potential book titles for a long time, not just because I saw a bunch of these titles in the airport:) The title at this moment is Alcohol is Shit | but it’s also the invitation. Below that title, it will say either, “control alcohol from the inside out” or “Unfuck yourself from the inside out.” Not sure yet. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
All these books, including mine, isn’t fulfilling a niche or a trend, they are representing a movement that can no longer be ignored. There’s a consciousness on this planet that is starting to say, hang on a second, this isn’t working. Those of us who struggle with addiction, sometimes think we’re the only ones who reach a rough spot on life. Not true, everyone does, and we’re reaching a critical mass, especially in America. On a global scale, people are starting to say, timeout, hold the phone, the formula that I was told to follow in life, isn’t yielding the fruits I was promised.
I recently read an article titled the Age of Anxiety in the New Republic that sheds light on this movement.
According to studies by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20 percent of Americans experience an anxiety disorder in a given year; over 30 percent experience an anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetimes. And the rate is rising: The American Psychiatric Association, in a May study drawing from a survey of 1,000 American adults, diagnosed a statistically significant increase in national anxiety since 2017.
Please read carefully. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. Right now, at this moment, there’s nothing wrong with you. Never has been and never will be. Take a deep breath; we are okay. This anxiety is a good thing and shouldn’t be labeled in some diagnostical statistical manual as bad because this collective state of unrest will eventually show us the way.
According to the article in the New Republic, this jittery national mood has given rise to what Rebecca Jennings at Vox has dubbed “anxiety consumerism”—the rise of a plethora of products, from fidget spinners to essential-oil sprays, to weighted blankets. These weighted blankets were initially developed for people with autism and PTSD as self-administered hugs, to give the sensation of an embrace, but sales for these blankets have gone through the roof, and everyone is buying them. Perhaps the most well-known product to fall into this anxiety consumerism category is alcohol. Just about everyone on the planet right now needs a big hug.
Who is going to initiate this hug?
Those who struggle with addiction are the trailblazers in the collective unf*ck yourself movement that desperately needs to happen. Not just for those who grapple with addiction to alcohol, but for everyone. As a global community, we’re starting to see what’s not working and alcoholics were the first to see it. We are leading this movement and will eventually be the ones who hold the door open for the rest of society. Let that last sentence sink in for a second. You and me. We will be leading the global unfu*ck yourself movement for everyone. Not just those who struggle with addiction.
I was completely ignorant of how beneficial giving up alcohol would be to the overall quality of my life. After all, alcohol became me. I spent a huge chunk of my life intimately interacting with alcohol, completely isolated from any other solution. When I was first introduced to recovery, a life absent of alcohol, I wasn’t convinced that it was for me. Fear crept in and I rebelled against the idea of letting go of my vice. Until one day, the pain I was experiencing was far greater than my fear of change. First, I had to admit to my innermost self just how detrimental my drinking had become and the magnitude of the harm I was causing myself and others.I was pleasantly surprised to find that giving up alcohol enhanced my life so much more than I ever could’ve imagined.
If you are unconvinced and on the fence about sobriety, let me be the first to assure you that things will only get better. What’s the worst that can happen? You may face conflict and resistance at first. Once you get over the initial slump, I can assure you, your life will approve drastically once you reach the other side of alcoholism. Here are 5 reasons you should stop drinking alcohol.
One of the most obvious reasons you should stop drinking is because of the direct negative effects of alcohol abuse. Heavy drinking increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, cirrhosis, kidney failure, and heart disease. When you make the decision to stop drinking alcohol your overall health wellbeing will improve in a multitude of areas:
Brain: A recent study suggests that as little as two weeks, of sobriety, can reverse and even heal damaging effects of alcohol on the brain.
Heart: Abstinence from alcohol will decrease your chances for developing high blood pressure and your risk for heart attack or stroke.
Skin: Alcohol is a potent diuretic. When you stop drinking alcohol, your skin’s elasticity will return as you naturally become more hydrated.
Weight: The calories found in alcohol are void of any nutritional value, but rather are filled with empty calories. Your appetite will soon return and you will consume nutritional foods rather than consuming unhealthy sugars.
Alcoholics spend most of their lives trying to numb all emotions with alcohol. When you stop drinking, your emotions may be all over the place. In fact, I had a hard time even identifying my emotions when I first got sober. Eventually, that changed. Consuming alcohol can lead to incomprehensible demoralization, which ultimately ends in guilt and shame. Absent from alcohol, guilt is eliminated. Quitting alcohol can relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, encourage longer/deeper sleep, and overall stabilize mood.
When I was drinking, life was tough. Not only was I spending way too much on alcohol, but I evaded any/all financial responsibilities. Eventually, I wasn’t able to be much use at work either. Without alcohol, you are able to be a productive member of society. The money spent on alcohol can be spent on repaying old debts and current bills. Financial freedom comes, once you put down alcohol.
Mental clarity, memory, and focus are seriously impaired when under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol. The benefit of not drinking alcohol will directly impact your mental clarity. I don’t know about you, but the mental fog I experienced on a daily basis created many problems for me. My memories were skewed, my thinking was delusional, and I couldn’t focus on any task that didn’t involve drinking more. When you give up alcohol, the fog is lifted. One study followed a group of men and women with at least 6 months into their sobriety. Researchers were unable to distinguish any cognitive differences between the recovering drinkers and the non-drinkers.
One of the most meaningful benefits of my sobriety is the quality of the relationships in my life today. Truth be told, when I was drinking I was unable to maintain any healthy relationship. I had an unhealthy love affair with alcohol. I was a horrible friend, daughter, mother, and human in general. I preferred isolation over engaging in interpersonal relationships. When you quit drinking alcohol, the veil is torn away. You may find acceptance of relationships that have been damaged, beyond repair. Communication doesn’t ignite fear but rather it becomes a healthy necessity. You are able to make healthy choices and mend broken relationships
When you first stop drinking, you may feel like a total train wreck. (That’s how I felt) It didn’t take long before all of the promising benefits of sobriety, started to become my reality. I’m not sure I ever experienced the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional freedom prior to getting sober. Without the commands of alcohol shackling you to self-propelled misery, the world is your canvas. When you decide to stop drinking you get the opportunity to live a life beyond your wildest dreams.
This is a guest post from Tricia Moceo who is an Outreach Specialist for Recovery Local, a local addiction/recovery-based marketing company. She advocates long-term sobriety by writing for websites like detoxlocal.com, providing resources to recovering addicts, and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.
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.
We all love to travel
Nearly every online dating profile can confirm this. We only have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we have a pull to see as much of it as possible. This can be an incredible experience, especially when we’re traveling with fun light-hearted people. When traveling, our guards are often down, and our heart opens to the present moment. The sights, sounds, and smell are all taken in. We are fully present, and this is where the magic happens.
A trip from hell
Traveling the globe is great until it becomes a nightmare. In 2014, I was a counselor for a high school trip, and we had just finished the Inca Trail and exploring Machu Picchu (this is where I got the idea for the 2018 sober travel itinerary to Peru). I had plans to continue my travels after the students returned to Colorado and I was ready to strap on the backpack and let the wind take me. That was the plan at least.
I said goodbye to the group and had every intention of staying sober for the rest of my trip. That internal declaration lasted no more than two hours, and I found myself drunk at the hostel bar later that evening. For the remainder of my stay in South America should have been the sober vacation of a lifetime, but it ended up being a disaster where I wanted to hit the eject button nearly every moment.
Death Road mountain bike tour
After that, I traveled to Puno and visited the highest freshwater body of water on the planet, Lake Titi Caca. Then I visited La Paz Bolivia where I saw Guns and Roses on my birthday. They didn’t sell alcohol at the concert, so I saw it as a sign it was going to be my new sobriety date, my birthday! After the show, I was drunk followed by a brutal hangover for the Death Road mountain bike tour.
After that, I did a jungle tour in the Bolivian Amazon and was so thankful to hear I wouldn’t be near a bar or store that sold alcohol. Well, alcohol is everywhere, and ended up convincing a local to sell me 3 liters of beer. I was becoming demoralized, and the trip was only half done. Next up, my trip involved renting a car and drove (mostly drunk) through northern Argentina, then a 16-hour bus ride over the Andes into Chile where I vomited on myself twice. The bus driver apologized for the windy roads. To the day, I still don’t think he knew I was just flat out drunk. Oh yeah, I forgot about the salt flat in Bolivia and northern Chile. This is usually a highlight for travelers, but I was too hungover to exit the vehicle most days.
Will this trip ever end…
I found myself in northern Chile in the San Pedro de Atacama Dessert wanting nothing more than to just “go home.” I think I even googled “time machine” or “tele-transport” a couple of times in google searches. I was utterly defeated by alcohol at this moment, and I still had ten days left on the trip. I booked a stargazing trip in the desert of Chile which, apart from Machu Picchu, was the best part of the whole trip. During this stargazing excursion, I got a glimpse of the universe. A seed of spirituality was planted in my heart… For a moment, I thought I would be able to go the rest of the trip without alcohol.
Then Lima happened. I woke up every day promising myself I wouldn’t drink. I did so well until the sun went down. I did manage to attend a couple AA meetings in Lima which helped, but overall, it was a total dumpster fire.
I’ve also googled “dolorian time machine” in hopes that I can go back and to that trip again: sober. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I go back and see these incredible places again. The difference this time is that I won’t do it alone.
Great Experience with Sober Vacations
After that vacation from absolute hell, the idea of sober travel vacations first arrived. I said, I love to travel, and I need to find a way to do it without being tempted to drink. Call it fate, destiny, or whatever, I then started the Recovery Elevator podcast, the sober communities Café RE and we just did our first international dry travel vacation to Peru in 2018 with 20 total attendees. During that trip, not one person drank. We had 20 people who have decided to live a life without alcohol and not one person drank. Incredible. On top of that, laughter seemed to be the theme of each day!
Next up is Asia January 20 – 31st, 2020. We will be flying into Bangkok, Thailand and departing Seam Ream, Cambodia. Apart from exploring two top destinations in Southeast Asia, we will be doing service work with Ourland, an elephant sanctuary, in Kanchanaburi. This sober travel tour should be the trip of a lifetime and simply cannot wait.
If you can’t make a Recovery Elevator sober travel vacation, and you still want to travel, here are some tips.
Tips for sober travel
- Go with a friend who knows you won’t be drinking. This person can hold you accountable and give you support in those difficult moments. Make sure this friend doesn’t prioritize alcohol.
- Go with a sober travel buddy – even better! If you have a sober friend ask them to travel with you.
- Attend an AA meeting. I’ve attended AA meetings in nearly a dozen countries and not only is it great support, it’s a quick way to meet locals. I went to a meeting in Mexico and then was invited to a BBQ at a local’s house. It was so much fun.
- Keep recovery in your pocket – My recommendation is Café RE, but there are several supportive online recovery communities.
- Don’t risk it – Wait till you have some solid sobriety footing before embarking on a sober vacation 2019. If you’re in your first 30 days of sobriety, it may be prudent to wait another couple of months.
- Do not stay at the party – many hostels are where the party happens. Do your research and make sure you have an exit strategy when you’re ready to call it a night.
- Be strategic with your destinations – If sobriety is your goal, then the Spanish party Islands Ibiza, probably shouldn’t be on the itinerary. Maybe think about visiting Morocco where alcohol isn’t part of the culture.
Don’t let your goal of sobriety hinder your travel plans. There are many ways to do this. I’ve been to over 15 countries sober, and I plan to add to that list! Sobriety has given me a life I could never could have imagined. Thanks for being part of it.