Sober vacation. Precisely the phrase I Googled as I packed my bags for a seven day trip to Mexico and Cuba. At 31, this was not only my first international trip, but also my first bona fide adult vacation...and I planned to do it sober. So, there I was, turning to Google to confirm my decision and make a gameplan (totally normal, right?). What I found was a list of vacation getaways designed for those in recovery (not what I was looking for) and a litany of blogs about activities you can do to distract you from drinking (also not exactly what I was looking for, though some did contain useful tips). What I was looking for was something that inspired me, someone with moral authority to tell me it was possible to be sober on vacation while still having fun and relaxing, because the world around me was assuring me it wasn’t possible.
The problem is, I’d begun to believe those little myths that society feeds us about drinking. While I’d managed to survive over 100 days of regular life events without a drink, vacation is a special occasion, and I’d started to believe the story that I’d be missing out on the special occasion experience without a cocktail. Slowly but surely, I let these stories creep into my mind and convince me that maybe - just maybe - vacation was time to break my sobriety streak (as a disclaimer, note that I am on a sober path by choice, not as part of a recovery program, though I’d argue that everyone who stops drinking endures some sort of recovery. While these tips will certainly be helpful to someone who is in recovery, please seek the guidance of a professional or sponsor to help you navigate your first sober vacay). For me, getting through vacation sober was less about planning how to avoid booze (let’s get real, unless you’re a wizard of some sort, that’s probably unlikely to happen) and more about how I could bust through the myths I’d come to believe about myself and alcohol. Here are the top five drinking myths I had to debunk before embarking on my sober vacation:
People will think I’m weird if I don’t drink on vacation. That might be true. Honestly, people probably think I’m kind of weird from time-to-time anyway. Did bartenders at the all-inclusive resort look confused when I ordered a sparkling water with mint and cucumber instead of a margarita? Absolutely (but it was effing delicious and I paid to eat and drink whatever I wanted while there). Did I once have to tell a cabana boy I was with-child because he was poking fun at me for ordering a virgin Pina Colada? Yes, that totally happened. Did I have to explain to people why I wasn’t drinking. Yep, but that’s NBD; I’ve got my sobriety elevator pitch down. One of the biggest objections I hear from those who don’t want to abstain is that they don’t want to draw attention to themselves or explain why they aren’t drinking. Guess what? What you do is your business, you’re a big kid and you don’t owe anyone an explanation about what is or isn’t in your cup. In fact, I think you’ll be surprised when you realize how few people even notice if you choose not to draw attention to it.
Drinking is part of the “vacation experience.” If you’d asked me six months ago what a vacation on the beach looked like, I’d envision myself laying in a lounge chair, dressed in a bikini and giant straw hat, sipping some tropical drink. What I wouldn’t include in my vision is the spiral I’d accidentally slip into, enjoying drink after drink and waking up the next day feeling like complete hell. Nope, I don’t quite get to that part in my vision, but odds are, that is what would happen. Because as you start to lose your inhibitions, you start to lose willpower and your best intentions to have, “only a couple” fly out the window. So, for me at least, it was best not to tempt fate and, rather, affirm that I am capable of cutting loose and relaxing without booze. Furthermore, I remind myself that if I want to truly soak in everything a vacation spot has to offer (scenery, experiences, etc.) that being tipsy...or worse, incredibly hung-over, is not the way to do it.
Vacation is a time to treat yourself. I get it, and I totally agree with this, fundamentally. Vacation is a special time when you get to break away from your daily routines and responsibilities. You should definitely be able to indulge. Here’s where I had to get honest with myself about my tendencies. You see, for me, there is a fine line between indulging and over-indulging. I made the distinction that I wanted to indulge in items that were “special;” things I would savor and remember. I can honestly say that there are very few cocktails I look back at and think, “Wow, that was the best thing I’ve ever had; I’m sure glad I drank that.” However, I have had that reaction with amazing meals and desserts, so I reserved my indulgences special items I might not find anywhere else.
It’s awkward to turn down a drink. Yes, sometimes saying “no” is awkward, but that’s true for any situation. It’s also awkward to say no when someone you’re not interested in asks you for your phone number or a friend pitches you on their pyramid-scheme product (ugh, the worst), but part of being an adult is saying no gracefully when you’re not interested. Or, if a drink magically appears in front of you,,simply harness your inner ninja to get rid of that SOB without anyone even noticing. It’s easier than you think and actually kind of fun.
Having a drink is part of cutting loose and relaxing. We all tell ourselves stories about how a drink takes off the edge or brings out our fun side. This is the biggest myth I had to bust through when I stopped drinking. I had actually convinced myself, as many of us do, that I can’t make it through specific situations without a drink. When you really think about it; the thought is totally insane. Instead I affirm: Who I am and what I am capable of feeling and doing does not require alcohol. I am capable of being me and taking on any situation without a drink.
And it’s true, you are capable of taking on any situation without a drink. You are a brilliant, intelligent human being. You can indeed learn to relax, have conversations with strangers, cut loose on the dance floor and even survive a vacation without a cocktail in your hand. It just takes a little willpower, belief in yourself and the willingness to deny the stories we’ve long been told about what is “normal.” You are normal and wonderful and whole and you can make it through anything the world throws at you without a drink...I think you’ll even be pleasantly surprised at how well you can do it.
Want to learn more about taking a break from alcohol? Follow this link to learn more about my 30-Day Alcohol Detox; a month-long program I created for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol, but need help shifting their mentality about drinking first. In addition to helping you identify and shift your current drinking mentalities, the program will help you change the way you think about alcohol and drinking altogether.