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Two Holidays and a Wedding

Going can sober can feel intimidating for a bunch of reasons, particularly if we have to face social events like going on holiday or attending a wedding. My name’s Kieran, and through experiences related to tackling these difficult sober situations, I’ve come out a stronger and better person, believing in alcohol-free life more than ever before!

To give this post a bit of context, at the end of February I went away to Benidorm for my brother-in-law's stag do. I’d been dreading it for a while; it had been originally planned pre-Covid before I’d considered going alcohol-free – but now (even after a year and a half of sobriety), I was worried. But why? I’d taken the stick from friends, done the sober nights out, been to a wedding evening do, travelled places sober, and all the rest of it. But this stag was playing on my mind.

The bulk of the party was made up of army lads. My brother-in-law is in the forces (British army), and he is the one person who really struggled to accept my sobriety. He was still very much a part of the army drinking culture and, unfortunately, without alcohol we had grown apart.

For one reason or another, I made a conscious decision that I would drink on this occasion – for one weekend only! I thought that by being in control of that decision (rather than slipping up) would be okay. Of course, I didn't really want to drink – I was doing it more for others than myself. If it wasn’t my brother-in-law’s stag I wouldn’t have even thought of going! But the situation was as it was, and I decided to drink.

To cut a long story short, I got really drunk on the first night. Old bad habits crept back in scarily fast. With my inhibitions removed, I acted in ways I didn’t want to. This left me feeling very disappointed, depressed, and down. The experience damaged me far more than I could have imagined. It was not worth it in the slightest! Although this moment was tough for me, it served as a very important learning curve in my journey.

I think we all experience that ‘Fading Effect Bias’ that William Porter speaks about in his book Alcohol Explained (which is a brilliant book to read if you haven't already). Simply put, this idea suggests that, over time, we forget the bad parts of drinking and only remember the good parts. I think after a year and half this had started to play a part in me becoming complacent. Even though that is not the reason I had my blip, the blip has served its purpose in bringing the negatives back to the forefront of my mind.

Being reminded that alcohol only has negatives, no positives, was very important for me. I realised I had to claw my way back out of the hole I had dug and get back on track. Since this, I’ve done a few more alcohol-free holidays/weekends away and I thought it’d be nice to write about a few of the wins I noticed in the following holiday I went on which helped me hugely after my blip.

There are so many positives to celebrating and taking trips when you are sober; I couldn’t even begin to count them! Here are a few benefits I noticed on holiday in the aftermath of my slip up:

1) Spending time with family! This is by far one of the biggest benefits in my opinion. When you go alcohol-free, you get to be fully present with your family. At home, life can be busy, so going away and being sober means I can spend quality time with my family, especially my son. When I would drink in the past, I would look forward to family time but inevitably become fixated on where the next drink was coming from. Being AF, I let the other adults scramble for drinks whilst I have fun with the kids being a big kid myself!

2) Adventure! With more energy (and less obsession with the bar), I find have an increased sense of adventure on AF holidays. Walks, hikes, sports, and bike rides have become the norm for me when visiting a new place. Not everyone feels a sense of adventure in the same way, but whatever your passion is, there are so many ways to explore a new city that are often left at the sidelines when we are drinking. I find more than one way to enjoy a bit of adventure on holidays now! These adventures are not only healthy, but they make me feel so alive! I even took my running shoes on my recent weekend away to the Cotswolds and went on two runs! Who’s that guy?! I’m not sure – but I think I like him.

3) Early mornings and catching sunrises. There is nothing better than waking up early to catch the sunrise somewhere new. What a way to start the day!

4) Food! I do indulge on holiday, but last time I found I was more mindful and balanced than ever before. Plus, I was focused on what I was eating instead of food being a secondary pleasure to booze! That can only be part of an upward spiral towards a healthier, happier lifestyle, right?!

5) Socialising! I have a much better time socialising with my AF beers. No drama or arguments, just good laughs with good friends. Okay so when it gets to 10pm I’m usually ready to hop off to bed to wake up refreshed the next day, but is that so bad?

6) Last, but not least, sober holidays mean that coming home I feel a genuine sense of calm and renewed energy. I’ve spent quality time with family, remained healthy, and slowed down my mind. In the old days, a holiday would be just another excuse for battering my physical and mental health. Holidays are supposed to be times of rest and restoration, and now they finally have this effect!

As well as holidays, weddings are a pretty pro-boozing environment. After my brother-in-law’s stag, the idea of doing a sober wedding felt a little daunting. However, I knew the time would come. The wedding was my sister’s, and I had to be there.

Before the occasion, I knew with every fibre of my being that after my recent blip I did not want to drink. However, I inevitably underestimated the triggers – it was trigger central! Drinking is everywhere on wedding days – there’s drinks whilst getting ready, people drinking in the sun preparing to celebrate, the Pimm’s after the ceremony, drinks to toast the speech, rounds at the bar with the stag lads… it never ends!

Once again, I realised how much of our lives revolve around drinking and the infuriating fact that no one seems to question it. For a brief moment, I noticed myself wondering if I could just ‘have a couple’ to celebrate. After all, it’s not every day your sister gets married.

I’m proud to say that as quickly as the thought came to my mind, it vanished. Instead, my recent blip came back to me, and I knew that ‘just one drink’ would turn into another three weeks of pain. Luckily, this was powerful enough to crush the idea before I followed through with it. Putting my ‘why’ at the front of my mind, I stood up tall and continued to enjoy the occasion.

Needless to say, it was a beautiful day. I was both proud of my little sister and proud of myself. I was able to show up and enjoy the day fully with a totally clear head.

So just like holidays, here’s a list of reasons that the first full sober wedding I attended was the best I ever went to:

1) The first big win of the day for me was whilst getting ready with my brother-in-law (the groom) and his brother (the best man). I could see gift bags for the best man and groomsmen (me being one of them) and, as I'm sure you may have guessed, they seemed to be full of alcohol-related gifts. My heart sank. Thoughts raced through my mind. Perhaps after my blip on the stag my brother-in-law now thought I was a full-blown drinker again? Were they all going to expect me to drink again? Do they want me to drink? I mentioned earlier that my brother-in-law was in the forces and for a long time he didn’t accept my AF life. It turns out that time is not only a great healer but great for allowing space between two people which helps them understand each other better. My brother-in-law handed me my gift bag and in amongst socks and other bits there was a brown box that I nervously opened to reveal an AF BrewDog giftset! My heart swelled with joy. No words were needed for me to know that this was his way of accepting me being alcohol-free; it just took him some time.

2) I also got to experience the wedding fully and enjoyed it without constantly thinking about where the bar was or when the next drink was coming. At weddings in the past (as guilty as I felt about it), I would be sat during the ceremony waiting for it to be over just so I could finally get drunk with my mates. Not this time! I enjoyed every moment and emotion that comes with seeing your little sister getting married which was the best gift of the whole day.

3) Another astonishing benefit was that I spoke to everyone! Instead of getting lost amongst the bar and stumbling around bumping into people and having meaningless conversations, I went out of my way to go and catch up with everyone! Close family, distant family, and some people I hadn't seen in years. It was nice to go around and have a proper conversation with near enough everyone – I even remember welcoming and chatting with the evening guests as they arrived. In the past, I would have already been in a drunken stupor and wouldn’t even bother saying hello. The level of connection was off the scale.

4) The bar had Becks Blue! Not my favourite AF drink, but I was happy the bar had something to offer. It seems that this will only improve as time goes forward.

5) Sober dancing… So, it wasn't pretty. However, I had a great time mucking around on the dance floor and having a right old laugh. You don't need alcohol to have a bit of fun on the dancefloor!

6) People didn’t think I was acting weird! One of my friends said to my partner Kate, Kieran is the same without alcohol – he’s still a social butterfly as always. This was so nice to hear! When we give up drinking, we think we won't be liked as much, and people will think we aren't fun anymore. It’s good to know I can still socialise when I need to. I did, however, learn that I’m more introverted since giving up booze, but I’m okay with that! A social butterfly was the persona I built for myself whilst drinking, and I suppose in social situations I can still play up to that character a bit. Instead, though, it comes from a much more genuine place of wanting to connect, rather than trying to be someone I’m not to impress other people.

7) And finally, it never gets old seeing everyone else feeling sorry for themselves the next day whilst you feel GREAT! This is especially true after a wedding. The breakfast with everyone the next morning allowed me to reflect on what a lovely day it was. I even managed to go on a cheeky 5k run in the afternoon. Who goes for a run after a wedding?! Apparently me these days.

If you’ve got this far, I salute you. I hope you find sober joy in all the weddings, holidays, and celebrations you attend. Even writing this post reminded me why I chose an AF lifestyle and how sobriety was the springboard to becoming my best self once more. I’m not an expert by fair, but the great thing is I’m always learning something new on this journey. The good and the bad!

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