The last time I hadn’t had a drink on holiday I must have been eighteen. Perhaps even seventeen. Regardless, we are talking decades, not just a few years. I didn’t really even think it was possible. It was ingrained in my psyche that holiday equates to drinking (holiday + drinking = good times etc.). Gosh darn those wanderlust Corona ads. However, Bob Dylan was right, the times they are a changin’, and as you may know, several months ago I decided to quit drinking. I’m attemtping to view quitting drinking similar to how smoking became in the noughties, passé and undesirable. However, I’m not doing it in a smug way, like some non-smokers do as they scrunch their face up and fake cough. And I definitely don’t get on the preachy bandwagon like the occasional person does when they have a lifestyle change, like when people become vegan and shake their head at you for eating a bit of cheese, and then you find them sneakily munching on a kebab behind the pub after a few too many ales. Funnily enough I have been a pescetarian for twenty years, never once deviated. I’m hoping to achieve the same for alcohol. I don’t even really mention the non drinking to people unless they ask as I don’t really think it is that important. It doesn’t define my whole being. If anything, it was the drinking that had begun to define me, and I didn’t want that. A few weeks into my alcohol free lifestyle we planned a trip to Sri Lanka. Now, I thought, this could be interesting.
By the time we came to flying away to paradise I had not let a sip of alcohol pass my lips in 66 days. I counted this out on the day of departure as I had read an article about 66 days being the average amount of time to cement a habit. I wasn’t a completely OCD, counting the days, minutes and seconds of my last drink, just in case you were thinking that. I count in weeks, nice chunky week blocks. Anyway, I was feeling positive and hadn’t had any catastrophic urges. It had helped that in the past few months I had made myself a student of sobriety, learning from the wise people who had already walked this path and shared their knowledge, like the insightful Annie Grace and her novel This Naked Mind, as well as her well-informed podcast; the entertaining ex-boozehound Catherine Gray and her book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, as well as her funny inspo insta posts; and the defiantly strong and cool AF insta and blog posts of Hip Sobriety.
The night before we left my partner and I sat on our deck and had a drink. Usually, the night before a holiday I would start with a couple of celebratory beers, then top it off with a few (dozen) Rosé or white wines. This time wasn’t too different, I pulled the ring tab of my craft beer, watched as the amber liquid flowed into the glass then clinked it against my partners, ‘to us and an amazing adventure!’. There was a slight change though, the beer was non-alcoholic. I had become quite keen on this alcohol free beer range called Sobah that used native Australian ingredients to create yummy beer flavours like lime cerveza. I had come across them by accident about 6 weeks in, when a friend and I stopped by a bottle shop on the way to a dinner party.
Beer purchasing interval: I had been meandering around the shelves of the bottle shop not particularly interested, similar to how I would feel if I was say scarf shopping, when I had sighted them. I felt a little awkward going to the register with my cans of non-alcoholic beer, and I watched the cashier’s bearded and masculine face as I placed the cans on the counter tentatively, trying to read his expression. To my surprise instead of picking them up and smirking, he said ‘have you tried these before? The lime flavour is really good’ (yep, me and the bottle shop attendant both have good taste). Funnily enough, a few weeks later when I went to buy a few cans on a Friday afternoon my bottle shop friend was standing at the beer fridge, in front of the Sobah cans, telling a guy how good they were. Who knew sobriety had become so cool? See, that smoking analogy is really ringing true now.
Okay, back to the holiday! The next day we flew to Sri Lanka and I didn’t even think about having a wine on the plane as I would have done previously. I didn’t think about alcohol at all really until two days into the holiday when we reached the beach. It was dusk, and we were sitting at one of the numerous restaurants that reside on the water’s edge in the beautiful beach town of Mirissa, the legs of our table dug haphazardly into the soft tangerine sand. If the tables were placed any closer to the sea patrons would be required to wear floaties. The water crashed theatrically in front of us and the residue heat from the day’s sun hung in the air. After the waiter had deposited the drink menus in front of us, I perused it, the candlelight illuminating the pages, and I remember looking up and out to the ocean, and thinking ‘if there was any time that I could fail…’. I ordered a sparkling mineral water, and was slightly dismayed when they brought back a plastic bottle of still water. In comparison to my partner’s mojito I certainly felt outshone. For some reason it made me feel like there was a spotlight on me: ‘sober person on the beach! Here’s what they look like everyone!’.
However, I was obviously being a little sensitive. This soon disappeared over the next few days spent at the beach as I noticed a few places offered virgin cocktails, like mojitos, so I could have the occasional one of those instead of looking like a closet raver with my bottle of plain water, or even worse, a person that had no imagination. There’s obviously nothing wrong with plain water, don’t get me wrong, I love water, but at least try to joosh it up a bit, how about a little lemon? Or a fancy straw? After work, instead of drinking wine (can’t drink fancy alcohol free beers all the time), I have a somewhat ritualistic mineral water: a pinched lime, plenty of ice cubes, sparkling mineral water, topped off with a straw (cardboard straw, of course. No point avoiding liver disease if I get lynched for drinking out of a plastic straw in the meantime).
Over the next two weeks I began to realise that being a predominantly Buddhist society, alcohol wasn’t a huge component of the Sri Lankan lifestyle. They even occasionally sold alcohol free beer in convenience stores (a German brand called Bitburger. Not as good as fancy craft A/F beer that I had become accustomed to but still okay for a one-off. It was nice to be considered regardless). It didn’t feel like they pushed alcohol. My partner would often have to chase someone down to order a beer and then it might take about 15 minutes for it to arrive, sometimes not at all, as some places didn’t have any cold beer stocked and ready for thirsty Australians. I couldn’t even imagine that happening in Australia, ‘Ah sorry mate, we umm don’t have any of the twenty or so beer varieties we stock cold right now. How about a fresh juice?’. Yeah, no. That wouldn’t be a thing. We were in Sri Lanka over a Buddhist public holiday, and in some restaurants they wouldn’t serve alcohol at all. I’m sure it was a bit of a downer for my partner, though he would never admit, but it made me think how glad I was that I no longer drink. Boozy me would definitely not accept not having a drink/it being hard to get one, especially by the time the ethanol monster had come out to wreak some havoc. It was a relief to not have to even consider it.
By halfway through the holiday I almost forgot that I was newly on the sobriety bandwagon. It just felt natural not to partake. There were no cravings or moments when I came close to ‘cracking’. I started to wonder why I had wasted so much of my past precious holidays drunk or with a foggy head after overindulging. What had I been trying to escape whilst on holiday? It seemed crazy to me now. I could understand the crumpling of one’s will in the face of a stressful work environment or even just to escape the sometimes seemingly endless humdrum of life, but on holiday, no. Why would I waste the coveted hours when I am free of the things I want to escape from? Well, as you can probably tell by now from the moral of the story, I’m not anymore. It finally feels right to say goodbye to my boozy holiday days. ‘The time has come’, the walrus said, ‘to talk of other things’. And it might be of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, I don’t know, but it won’t be about how much I’d kill for a wine, beer, G & T, insert alcoholic beverage here.
Flying home, sitting in my seat built to fit an underdeveloped five-year old, watching a film, soda water in hand, I felt like after years of trying, I’d solved the rubik’s cube at last, and I must admit, I did feel just a little bit smug.
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