Triggers in Florida
This is a post about sober vacations. And it isn’t the post I had hoped to write while on this lovely, sober (of course), vacation. And don’t let the title fool you, it also isn’t about all of the signs for gun shows and exhibitions I saw on the drive here.
When I was sober curious (the period where one is reading sobriety blogs, watching sober people and maybe even having some sober trial periods…my sober curious period lasted years, I kept leaving red wine stains on the self help books and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t “working”. ) Anyway, during that period I read a post about sober vacationing. It sounded blissful. No hangovers, so much more of an appetite for all the new food, fluffier clouds and shinier sunrises. It sounded like the vacations I wanted but couldn’t seem to make happen.
Fast forward to this vacation. We left Toronto 9 days ago. There has been blissful moments including a coastal Georgia sunrise where I truly felt a divine energy surrounding me and my 4 year old. Heck, I even sipped an oat latte (my favourite coffee shop indulgence) while wandering barefoot through powder white sand with my 3 children, feeling an utter contentment and, yes, blissfulness, that would have been impossible in my previous life, with the inevitability of a vacation hangover. Or hangover aside, (let’s say I was “good” and drank the same amount as the rest of the tourists at the oyster bar the previous evening), the same level of contentment and bliss still would have been impossible with that omnipresent sad and/or ominous feeling that won’t lift even when the sun is shining, when your blood is trying to pump out days and days worth of alcohol. (There is real science behind this, but that is also not the point of my post today.)
The point of my post today is to tell you about other feelings that arise on sober vacations.
A few days ago we arrived to a gorgeous beach town to spend a few days searching for shells and drinking coffee and kombucha to the sound of the ocean – or at least that was the expectation I set ahead of time (be careful of expectations – I am pretty sure that Buddhists and Eckhart and many other life experts tell us this quite clearly, but seriously watch those expectations). I had scoured Airbnb for a rental within budget and within walking distance to the ocean and found something much cheaper than the others (first red flag ignored). It mentioned being walking distance to all of the popular beach restaurants on one particular street that sounded very fun (second red flag ignored). We arrived, exhausted and hot, right around what I call my “witching hour” – the time after the afternoon fun has been had but before evening relaxation sets in. There is dinner to be cooked or found, kids to clean, and I am tired. And I used to always reach for a cocktail to make it all more fun (until 6 hours later when that first cocktail was still going, and fun was definitely not being had by me or anyone around me being forced to babysit me, or in the very least, put up with me). Anyway, we arrived at that time. At home, I do yoga at that time, or I go for a run, or I read something beautiful. I take care of myself. That afternoon, I arrived to bustling Saturday afternoon/evening beach bars with live music and extra happy hours going on. Just the kind of place I would have been ecstatic to find so close to us a few years ago. I felt the anger rising. How had the universe let me book this hotel, next door to this massive trigger? How had I been so naïve about what a strip of beach restaurants meant? Why were so many drunk people staggering past my “supposed to be peaceful and sacred” front porch meant for coffee and kombucha? And here’s the thing, I didn’t stop at being angry. Then I switched to this weird and scary mindset, where I actually found myself saying “well if I was going to relapse that would be an EPIC place to do it. That is exactly that kind of beach bar that Erica would choose.” And it was. It was the kind of place where I lost many afternoons that stretched into evenings, where I lost many sandals and brain cells. Where I made memories, sure, but where the word “no thanks” definitely didn’t exist, and common sense never prevailed. I knew this type of place, and I knew who I turned into in this type of place. It felt like my past was playing an evil joke on me. Here I am trying to drink tea on the beach while the sound of the waves soothes my soul, while I frolic in the ocean with my children, while I be so damn “good”. It felt like I didn’t deserve the type of vacation I pictured, like I didn’t deserve all that “good”, and I was doomed to be surrounded by the garbage that had nearly killed me for years. Like that was my destiny, my karma. And I was angry. And there was a lump in my throat. I was disappointed, and frankly, I was a little petrified at the feelings that were showing up. I thought I was so far past all of this. I was able to attend any cocktail party in the world, sparkling water in hand, laughing and having fun. Booze barely registered anymore. But this, this was BUGGING ME. A lot. So, without a lot of thinking, I put my youngest in a stroller, and I made some excuse about finding a grocery store, I guess that seemed like a very wholesome place to try to find. And I put on running shoes and a favourite podcast on my headphones and I walked. And then I picked up the pace. And soon I was running, in my sneakers and sundress and my baby in a stroller. I was running from the triggers, from the beach bar full of people that I would have pretended to love in the past so I could keep drinking with them, running from the beach bar that would have ruined tomorrow, that would have taken over my beach vacation and stolen me from my kids, stolen me from myself. I was running and running. I arrived at the grocery store and bought so much food, I loaded that stroller with food like it was my job. And then I cried a little. And then I laughed. Because this sloppy, unplanned, sweaty mission turned out to be one of strength and courage and I could now see it for what it was. Here I was, crying and laughing, at a grocery store, with a naked sand-covered baby and a very strange outfit on. Sober. And so damn happy to be who I am today. The lady who frantically grabs her running shoes and just gets outta there! The lady who doesn’t let an old pattern of inner dialogue convince her she is missing something fun (even when this dialogue leaves out all the not-fun-at-all memories of what really happens). The lady who saves herself from herself. (I like to picture new me saving me from old me - and new me is way better looking in this visualization, by the way. It helps!) I was so tearfully happy to be the sweaty lady in the grocery store who failed at predicting a trigger, but still didn’t let the dark side win. The lady who is done with the dark side.
The lessons from this experience are many. Be careful of expectations. When they don’t live up to their hype, old patterns might rear their ugly heads (even when you haven’t seen those ugly heads in a long time). And never, ever stop showing up for yourself, if it feels urgent, then urgently do something (this often involves running shoes or ice cream for me, but it can be anything). And beware when you leave your comfortable bubble, no matter how solid you feel. Without your routines, usual tools and well, comforts, of your comfort zone, you are vulnerable to whatever the world throws at you. For me, the world gave me a two story beach bar full of “old Ericas”, and I was completely blindsided by it and the feelings it brought with it. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was telling this story with a different ending, in a very different setting. Some funny tidbit at a cocktail party, about how that was the day I realized I was going to start socially drinking again, that was the day I realized I could handle it and I missed it. And I would convince everyone who was listening, and I would especially convince myself, that this false story was true. And who knows how long that would drag on for….I guess until I woke up with the inevitable doom and gloom that would be coming back for me one day soon. Coming again. Because it never stopped coming back until I chased it away. The gripping anxiety. The dull ache of ever present sadness. The shame. The disappointment. So familiar. Anyway, I didn’t choose that ending to the story. I chose to show up for myself.
Interestingly enough, do you what happened after my strange grocery store run? I walked back past the bar, and I noticed other things. People drinking out of water bottles, people eating ice cream, people dancing with zero drinks in their hands. I was fortified by my self care. And I was able to see more than my tired and stressed brain had first wanted to show me. The reality of that beach bar was not nearly as scary as it had been before I gathered some strength and clarity. And I imagined myself, with a sparkling water, dancing my heart out to the live band and having a blast, and I felt such a massive sense of relief, bliss and contentment.