So, I recently got back from Lisbon.
After much stress over being unable to cancel or delay it, and the related Covid and money worries, we packed our bags, sanitiser and masks and hoped for the best. In all the pre-journey testing, checking the news, wondering, and stressing, I didn’t really get chance to think about the fact that this would be my first sober holiday.
I’m a planner when it comes to holidays. I love a list (and a spreadsheet) and will happily spend hours researching places to go, things to explore and how to get about. I don’t mind deviating from plans once I’m there but departing with some solid ideas and local knowledge makes me feel more relaxed. Trust me, a spreadsheet can be relaxing…
The realisation that this was going to be my first sober holiday and that I hadn’t done my usual prep sent me first into a bit of a panic, and then to the internet. The first things I Googled:
“What is ‘alcohol free’ in Portuguese?” – ‘Sim alcool’
“Sober things to do Lisbon” – one of the top links was a blog post about bakeries.
Historically, my holidays involved less drinking than Actual Life. I was already escaping whatever by being on holiday, and the desire to see new places and spend hours exploring would often remove the drinking time and twitchiness. However, I can’t think of a holiday where there hasn’t been at least one booze related regret. Whether it’s missing check out or crying or behaving like a dick or being hideously hungover whilst having to drag myself up a mountain or inviting the anxiety in or putting myself at risk or spending time tying myself in knots over whether to have a lunchtime drink because ‘holiday’ and ‘normal’ whilst knowing I’d spend the rest of the day wishing I could have ten more or passing out in any number of beautiful cities and wishing I could have just left drunk me at home too. UGH. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. So, I knew that a sober holiday wouldn’t
involve any of that (YAY!) but also wasn’t sure how I’d feel about bars and night times, and other people drinking. There’s been very little contact with other people during the pandemic, and that counts for most of my sober time.
Here are some observations and reflections on my first sober holiday:
On the first evening, we decided to eat at the hotel terrace bar to breathe a big sigh of relief that we’d made it and to enjoy the view (the main reason for booking that hotel!). I knew what to look for on the drinks menu but there were no ‘cervejas sim alcool’. I felt a bit deflated as I didn’t feel like enjoying my fancy food with a can of pop. Fevertree Ginger Ale to the rescue:
I love ginger and that little kick of heat it delivers at the back of the throat. Like whiskey, but without the reckless abandon and resulting pit of despair. This first night was a great reminder of how much money you save when not drinking bottles of wine with dinner. I splashed out on food I would never normally order, though I will never fail to be disappointed when a dish arrives with one solitary and small item on it, I don’t care how tasty your crab pate ball might be. Over the course of the holiday, I drank lots of different soft drinks, gallons of coffee, lots of AF beers and indulged in some of the most amazing food – every day was filled with pastries and seafood and more pastries and not only could I afford more of it, I tasted every flavour, I remembered it all and, y’know, kept it down.
I get tired earlier. With 18 months sobriety under my belt, I know this anyway, but I had to prepare myself a bit for how to deal with the FOMO of being on holiday and feeling wiped out before 10pm. Want to know how I did deal with it?
Hotel picnics! We found a supermarket that sold one of the two MVP beers of the trip – Sagres 0.0% - and bought some of those and lots of Ruffles (the superior holiday crisp, even better than Lays in my opinion). We sat back with some trashy TV (subtitled CSI) and talked about all the things we were getting up early to do the next day. I hadn’t thought about the mini-bar in the room, and I think next time I’d probably just contact the hotel ahead and ask them to leave all the booze out of it. When we left, I snuck a few AF beers in there for the next people.
Mornings! I love a buffet, like, really love buffet. Sadly, Covid times have put an end to that so I was in a grump about the whole breakfast situation. That was until we were seated and a small bird came to share a piece of croissant and the sun was breaking through the clouds and the light was playing off the pastel-walled buildings of the old town and I felt like a euphoric Snow White.
I digress. Mornings though – waking up hangover free will never, ever get old, and this was especially true on holiday. We woke up excited about the day, still giddy from the previous day, rested, ready – just about everything other than sweaty, nauseous, and wishing oneself out of existence. I’d get up, have a dip in the rooftop pool, Wim Hoff-ing it a bit to ease myself into the cold water, enjoying the fact that no one else in the hotel seemed to be up and about at 6.30am. We managed to squeeze so much into our days whilst never feeling rushed, mainly down to starting the day early and well.
Wobbles will happen, and they did. One evening after a silly amount of walking, we decided to go up ‘just one more hill’ (there are many in Lisbon) and found a bar by a beautiful church with the most perfect sunset view. There was seating scattered all over the cobbled square and even though perspex barriers separated the tables, you could feel that buzz – groups of friends leaned in to each other over plates of olives and bottles of wine, backpacks were slung to one side as people gestured with cigarettes against the falling sun. Everything felt full of promise. See, that right there is when I must catch myself – when I start romanticising. There’s a moment on evenings like this when the conversations start to get a little louder, people might start to wander a table or two to the side to borrow a lighter and collect some new friends, the air cools and the light changes and more drinks are ordered… Have you heard about ‘playing the tape forward’? As I sat with my Super Bock sim alcool (the other MVP AF cerveja of the trip), I could feel myself getting twitchy and feeling a bit sad,
mourning those kinds of nights. Then I played it forward. I could see the moment when the next round becomes the most important thing, repeated conversations and talking over each other, the false intimacy and disconnection, the spilled drinks, the recklessness and spending and drinking and never wanting it to stop and the mood swings and the blackouts and the crushing feeling of realisation when peeling my eyes open the next morning. So, I sat with my AF drink and talked about all this with my partner who is amazingly supportive and chose to not drink on holiday either. We enjoyed the glorious sunset and a beautiful moment, then we paid up, walked back down the hill and I felt a million times better.
Other wobbles happened in places where I have similarly romanticised memories to challenge and talk myself down from: a bookshop where two older men sat smoking and sharing a huge carafe of red wine, handing each other books and showing each other passages, one reading aloud while the other topped up a glass; as we walked past a Mexican place and I could see the glint of salt-rimmed glasses and smell the tang of tequila and lime… I think it’s important to acknowledge what it is about those things that I “miss”, because I’ve had to essentially go through a process of mourning with a lot of rituals, behaviours and moments that were tied to drinking. Doing that allows me to see it for what it is, play that tape all the way to the bloody end, then choose sobriety and feel strong and happy in my choice and proud of my damn self.
Side note: My partner was approached in the main squares a lot – “cocaine or hash my friend?” Sure, it’s not the most unusual thing to be offered drugs in a big city, but it was usually around 2pm and in the middle of fairy tale jacaranda trees, and we were often juggling coffees and piles of pasteis de nata. I wasn’t too thrown (sober me is more interested in baked goods than a binge-fuelled rampage, thankfully) but worth mentioning because if these were your drug(s) of choice, it could be something to pre-empt and navigate.
So, there we are, a meander through my first sober holiday. Despite the external stress factors of the pandemic, I had the most beautiful and relaxed time. I did it sober, and I remember every single bit of it.
Article Source: Alex Herod our Bee Sober Manchester Ambassador