I’m all packed up and from the outside it looks as though I’m ready to go home, my first sober vacation ever neatly tucked like a feather in my cap. On the inside, I’m kicking and screaming and wanting to chain myself to the nearest dead weight so I can stay in New Orleans another day. Or week.
It’s day 7 of our trip, and my 45th day sober. Our flight leaves in a few hours. I’m not ready to go home just yet. I feel like a regular still sitting at the bar after last call and lights on, squinting at the reality of everything now that the music has stopped and the pub is empty.
Everyone has gone home, but I was just getting started.
I have a little confession for you. Leading up to this trip, I was pulling up my big boy pants and trying to be as brave as possible, holding my breathe while deep inside absolute terror was stirring inside me at the idea of an alcohol-free week in New Orleans. I was committed to not drinking – and I’m beyond proud to be able to say I did not have a single drop. But the house alcoholic that lives inside me still had his fingers crossed behind his back when I climbed on that plane last week.
Suuuuuuuuure you aren’t going to drink. Whatever you say, Shawn.
As much as I said – and truly meant – that I was not going to drink on this vacation, old-me was inside heckling, like it was opening night and my first time on stage. I was filled with visions of flying tomatoes being flung at my head while I bombed my performance.
Here’s a few things that helped me along:
I may as well start with this one, since it’s one of the biggest. No matter what you attempt to do without some kind of accountability leaves the emergency exit flown wide open. One eye on the prize and one on the easy way out. Hubs knew my intentions and supported me wholeheartedly leading up to and during the entire trip. My BFF sent me encouraging texts every day and GIFs of cake (see my post from March 13, 2018 if you’re not sure what the hell I’m talking about here). I made my intentions clear here on the blog and in a few online alcohol-free communities. If I gave in and drank, I wasn’t just disappointing and failing myself: I was failing a whole a crowd of people who were rooting for me to kick it out of the ballpark. Pride can be a nasty thing but it can also be a really motivational tool.
- I Spoiled Myself
I ate everything. I shopped like it was Black Friday. I indulged in massages and small treats that helped me stay occupied and entertained. In the infancy of sobriety, it’s easy to experience feelings of going without, no matter how strong your positive, rational, sober self-talk game is (see my next point). I can’t say I saved any money on this trip by not drinking, since I easily spent what I would have drank in the past on significantly more enjoyable, hangover free things that brought me joy. I didn’t care if it was a new hat or a hamburger: they were mine.
- I Rehearsed My Lines
Cravings are crafty little things. They’re sneaky. They’re incredibly good at hide and seek. They’re nowhere to be seen, until they pop out of nowhere and scare you shitless. You’re bumbling along having the best day ever, on top of your game and crushing the whole sober-on-vacation thing when BAM! a brick wall pops up and you walk smack right into it. A glass of wine would be awesome right now. Fuck. Knowing this will happen – and it will happen – is half the battle. Knowing how you’re going to deal when it happens, and following through, is the other half. I kept a few simple, easy to call on self-talks in my back pocket (not literally, but if writing them down and keeping the list in your wallet, purse or pocket works, then do it!). Whatever resonates with you and reminds you of your WHY. Why you aren’t drinking. Why a drink right now – you know, that just one drink that seems like a good idea – is actually a really bad idea. My go-to is always “Do I really want to trade the 30 minute sort-of-high I’ll get (and $8.00 I’ll spend) on a drink for the 2 or 3 hours of coming down from it? Is the regret and shame of starting back at Day 1 worth a few empty, unfulfilling sips? Do I want to feel tired and groggy in 30 minutes, and want a nap?” I almost always follow that up with “How well has having that just one drink gone for you in the past, Shawn? Have you ever had just one? Hasn’t it always turned into 20, served up with a side of hot mess and hangover?”
- Remove The Guess Work
Back to that vision of being stage. The days leading up to this trip began to feel like I had signed up for Improv Night with zero idea of what the hell I had actually signed up for, and zero experience of being on stage. Improv requires you to be quick witted and sure of yourself: two things I have none of this early on in sobriety. I needed to have a plan. I needed to rehearse some lines that would work in most situations. I knew in advance what go-to alcohol-free drinks I would order or ask for. Instead of standing at a bar or frantically searching for options on a wine menu, I narrowed it down – in advance – to a few things I’d order wherever I went: Perrier or sparkling water, a virgin Bloody Mary, virgin Mojito, or alcohol-free beer. That’s it. Those were my options. This saved me the temptation of mulling over drink menus or staring at shelves of sparkling liquor bottles. Simply put – it was one less decision I had to make on the spot in order to stay sober. I avoided temptation by knowing and choosing in advance the only options I had to choose from.
- I Kept Moving
The longer I’m sober, the more I’m realizing I drank as much out of boredom as I did out of habit and addiction. And boredom is this weird little thing – you can be super busy and still be bored. The trick is being stimulated. Luckily, New Orleans is one of the most stimulating cities on earth. If reading is your thing, pack a whack of books to read each morning that will give your brain something creative to mull over during the day instead of wandering to thoughts of drinking. Search out live music you love and look forward to. Talk to sober stranger (or really drunk ones – they’re pretty good reminders of why you got rid of alcohol in the first place). I didn’t allow myself to be bored because in the past, being bored always led to being drunk.
- Make Plans – And Keep Them
Drunk Shawn was the best at cancelling plans. I’d make them knowing 200% that I was going to cancel them. I don’t even know why. Dinner reservations, visiting with friends, FaceTime chats, meetings with clients, going to shows or weekends away – they all sounded like great ideas until they were made – then the procrastination game would start and I’d wait until the absolute last minute to bail on every one of them (or just not show up and be the asshole who disappeared into thin air). This trip, we made plans and stuck to them. We met some truly amazing people over the last week, and I’m beyond grateful that I kept my word with each of them on dinner plans and beyond. Last night was the best night of the week, and it’s because we stuck to our plan of meeting up with some new friends for dinner and drinks (they drank, I didn’t, and I loved it). We discovered new areas of town we’d never been to, an incredible restaurant we would never have found, and quite literally, the best-kept-secret rooftop view of the New Orleans skyline that only locals would know about. Plus, they’re “our people” who I know we will keep in touch with. None of that would have happened if I had fallen back onto my “errrrrr…I’m not feeling so well so we can’t make it, but maybe next time!” routine (meaning I’d just go get drunk somewhere else).
- Not Working Works
Maybe you’re like me, but really relaxing isn’t my strong point. I work on vacation. Well, I used to, anyways. I’d wake up early to go through emails, send out contracts, do some marketing and get a days worth of work under my belt before the sun even came up. You know what that does? Keeps me in work mode. You know what work mode does? Makes me want to drink. Leave work where you left it before you went on vacation, because your work drove you to needing a vacation in the first place. I promise you it’ll be there when you go back. I took the time I used to spend working and channeled that energy into writing (and eating) instead.
- Run If You Have To
This is my final point, and is similar to the first one (being accountable). In order to be accountable to yourself, you need to give yourself permission to run if you have to. If you’re in a bar, or a restaurant, or on a streetcar or the sidewalk and shit just begins to get too real and the cravings or temptations are steering you in the wrong direction – RUN. Go. Change your scenery. Leave the bar. Abandon your friends. Walk out. Walk ANYWHERE. The only thing that matters is that you don’t drink. No matter the implications, no matter who you leave behind, no matter what show you miss the ending of – leave. Leave so that you can stay sober. So that you can stay accountable to what you know in your soul you want more than anything. Nothing is more important right now. Do whatever you have to.
And that’s it! That’s the tiny (massive) toolbox I borrowed from over the last 7 days to stay sober in New Orleans. And it worked. It works on vacation, and it’ll work at home.
It’ll work anywhere, if you work it.
To be prepared is half the victory.
– Miguel De Cervantes