“What’s the most important part of your wedding?” my Dad asked. I had just lamented aloud my choice to buzz and bleach and then color my hair, less then 2 months before my wedding. I knew the answer, of course, and it has nothing to do with my fuzzy orange head. “Getting married”. My Dad nodded, and went back to his over-priced airport sandwich. We had just finished an amazing week long trip to Montana. We were exhausted. We were all day dreaming of sleeping in our own beds. As my sister eloquently put it, while pushing her fries around her plate, “I am unraveling”. Travel is one of my favorite things, but towards the end and sometimes even in the middle, it can challenge us. I felt this physically and mentally from the jump. I learned on day one that my body was deeply offended by the change in altitude, and refused to be a team player for most of the week. Whatever the challenge, we look for a source of comfort. As a newly sober friend of mine put it, a security blanket. We’re uncomfortable at the airport, on the plane, in the new city or country. On top of that, most of us are acutely aware of how lucky we are to be traveling, how much we wanted to be here, so we now feel like we should be having fun. It’s not surprising that we drink. We’re offered booze at every turn. And so booze enters into the story of travel, weaves it’s way into the wanderlust narrative, because it’s the easiest was to comfort an adult while taking their money.
As I write, I’m nestled between my sister and Dad, on my flight back home. I’m watching new parents snuggle their baby, taking turns making funny faces, in an effort to make their little dude feel comfortable. Booze used to be my funny faces on an airplane, at the hotel, and at the end of the day at a conference for work trips. All the wine, please. I am a business lady and I am uncomfortable and want to appear very comfortable so I would like that cheap red you have there. Thanks.
I could tell you stories about hangovers at Heathrowe and chalices of Sauvignon Blanc at the Applebees in Dallas. But the story is always the same: I wanted comfort. I was anxious and I wanted to fix it. I was celebrating and I was sure that drinking could only make it better. And sometimes it worked! But it was always a gamble. That was a big reason why I quit in the end. It wasn’t always bad, but it was bad often enough to make life harder.
Sitting in seat 20B, sipping my new favorite drink (airplane coffee), I started putting some pieces together. Travel wasn’t unlike the other “how can I do that sober” things. Other fun things that carry stress with them. Dancing. Weddings. Then it hit me. I wanted to drink when things were fun and stressful. Social situations are fun but I get anxious. I honestly barely realized I felt that way until I quit drinking. I want to have fun. I should be having fun. Here, booze will help. Travel. Weddings. I’m sure there’s more. But those two really stuck out. They were the two things I feared the most in early sobriety. To the “normal” drinker, having a glass of champagne at my own wedding might sound harmless. This sobriety magic doesn’t work when I half-ass it though. I did that for the first 6 months after I quit. A sip here and there. But you don’t get over your ex if you only make out with him sometimes. So it’s always a no. Not on the plane, not at my wedding, your wedding and not when I’m feeling homesick in a cabin in Montana and just learned that the root celler holds liquor. Vodka is kind of potatoes, I guess.
There are good ways to make it through both travel and weddings (or parties or work happy hours, etc) without drinking. I wish I could say that you just keep doing what you normally do, without alcohol. That wasn’t true for me. I leave things earlier now. I cling to my cup of coffee or La Croix like the baby in front of me is currently clinging to some sort of stuffed elephant/sock. I feel weird sometimes still. You can’t bring your weighted blanket to your co-worker’s birthday party (but why?) but you do get to decide how long you stay or if you go at all. It does get easier, and you do learn how to self-soothe. That’s a baby thing, right? Imagine yourself, cooing at strangers, drool bubbling down your face, but in the metaphorical sense.
Two years of weddings and birthdays and travel have taught me what I need to feel calm. We don’t always get handed what we need to feel safe in the moment, because reality doesn’t work like that. Booze is the quick fix. If you’re one of the lucky ones, for whom this quick fix makes you feel like trash, you get to take the DIY route. And it doesn’t always work. I tried for 20 minutes to meditate in the car on the way to the airport and I ended up having a imaginary fight with someone in my head. So chill! But you get through it. And you don’t have a hangover on the other side. That’s basically my sober mantra.
It’s different for everyone, but I would imagine that when we remove that harmful comfort in whatever form it takes, we grow. By grow I just mean figure our shit out. It’s awkward, for sure, and it doesn’t always feel like forward motion, but it’s real. There was a moment last week, when I had just finished a nerve-wracking ride up the mountain to be greeted with soda water while everyone else drank a beer. I feel like my eyes were replaced with cartoon flames. I was not playing it cool. I openly pouted. But I made it. And I have that experience now. I know now that I would like to know in advance when there’s going to be booze or I get really anxious and I also do not like climbing to 6000′ feet on a rocky mountain road. That’s fine. Those are valid ways to feel. I can tell my people that and I’m sure they will respect it. See? Seems tiny but when you add all of those moments together, you’re building comfort in and building up your tolerance for discomfort. Right? I hope so.
That plane baby is gumming a striped plastic blob within an inch of it’s life, now. He is my self-soothing hero.
That’s what I got for you. Taking your sobriety out into the world is scary, but so is any situation where you have to be brave and depend on yourself for comfort. No buts, it’s just hard. And I’ll keep doing it, you’ll keep doing it, and plane baby will for sure keep doing it. As my non-baby hero Glennon Melton says, we can do hard things.
It’s true. Safe travels.