The Longest Goodbye: Booze-free Camping and What I Did to Protect My New Sobriety

By March 14, 2020 The Longest Goodbye
Day 27: Learning the Unexpected

Modified diary entry from 27 January 2020 – a five-minute read

Going away on holiday is stress-laxing – a constantly in-flux state of varying between moments of stress, and the reward of relaxation – which I talked about in my previous blog. This most recent time, back in January, I was terrified by the thought of a two-week camping holiday completely AF (alcohol-free, not the other AF – but at times that may also apply).

While there is always stress in the lead-up, holidays can be relaxing once you’re where you need to be. For me, being away involves the ‘good stress’ of new experiences, coupled with the not-so-good stress of decision fatigue and the constant-ness of parenting.  (You’re not really meant to spend 24/7 with your children after they turn school age – there is a reason why weekends are 48 hours! Homeschoolers, I again salute you.)

Bear with me here (and I know I talked about some of this already in my last post) but all of the bonding and memory making is great, but tiring. And sometimes – full disclosure – a bit grating (there is NO escape, and then there is also the constant feeding required). It’s not unlike having toddlers again in many ways. I often begin to long for my ‘me time’ – especially once five or so o’clock rolls around. This still occurs, despite my children being at what most people would deem to be good ages, or even ‘the best ages’ – that short and magical time of childhood when they are old enough to have a sense of caution and self-management, but not so old that you have the new set of worries that goes along with them driving, living on their own, having romantic relationships…You get the idea. Two out of three of my kids have mobile phones. While they are a necessary evil, they can provide peace of mind for both parents and children. Hand up from me on that one.

So, with two teenagers and one ‘tween in the family, they are well and truly at the stage where I should be ever so gradually lessening my parental grip on them in a healthy way, and giving them more freedom to enjoy what adventures they have left to enjoy in their dwindling childhoods. Couple that with the freedom of camping, and I should have a recipe for ‘Ahhh…Peace at last…’ But no.

Because until I went AF, I didn’t realise what a control freak, worry-wart of a parent I was – especially once I am taken out of my usual habitat, or so it seems. (Our parallels with parenting in the animal kingdom run deep!) I also didn’t realise how much I depended on alcohol during these moments to help me to anesthetise and detach in a (not-so) healthy manner. This again was one of those ‘uncomfortable discoveries’ that confirmed that I was doing the right thing in taking a break from the booze. Clearly, I need to find a better, healthier, more normal way to process those feelings and emotions without dulling them with the old vino (something at Day 74, I’m still working on).

And ironically, as with so many aspects related to drinking – if something were to go wrong, you could very easily not be in the best position to respond appropriately. (Hellloooo not being able to drive to a doctor or ER if you did need to get stitches, etc…) But that is part of the ‘logic’ of the drinking life, I suppose…It giveth, and it taketh away…

And we most definitely did have a few things happen on this holiday that no doubt contributed to my grey hair count and/or alopecia. (For real: I do have recurring alopecia.) But that is life with kids. Here are a few examples:

  • That little bush fire they were water-bombing near one of our camp sites.  While it wasn’t shooting flames as such (DANGER!) this was occurring just days after the whole worst-bushfires-in-Australian-history events. So, was I catastrophizing – a talent that seems to come more easily to me these days without alcohol to dull the edges – or being a COMPLETE FUCKING REALIST about the fact that we could all just suddenly and without warning be BURNED ALIVE?!? Did I mention we also had no mobile phone coverage there? While the embers did smoulder for days, it was being consistently monitored and sprayed, and the Fire Brigade were a regular presence. Phew.
  • Next, there was also the day when a freaking snake decided to visit our campsite – uninvited, of course. Eeewww. And because it’s Australia, of course it’s a deadly variety. (Before going to Tassie, I was *really* hoping it fell into the Ireland/New Zealand category of being snake-free. But no. Don’t say I never told you!) While the snake was promptly ‘taken care of’ in the true Mafia-sense, I was still left to wonder if his friends would be back for revenge (also in the true Mafia-sense).
  • Then there was the day when Child #1 broke the Golden Rule of Hiking, by steaming off – ALONE! – in a fit of adolescent angst. She burned off in one direction at a cross section of trail, while we all went off in the other. A few panicked (on my part) minutes later – which featured me running at full speed as if from a primordial woodland predator – and I found her. But Jesus, did I feel like a drink then – once the urge to throttle her had passed, of course.
  • Then there there’s always the scary Australian ocean looming somewhere in the background, taunting me. #smallislandproblems of Tasmania, I suppose.  I do prefer my oceans to be like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights – deep, dark, mysterious, emotionally unavailable, and maybe even a little violent.  Also like Heathcliff, they are best enjoyed from a safe distance. Very safe. Preferably while reading a novel. So while I’m content to just admire the ocean from afar, of course children never are – and understandably so. Neither was I as a kid. And even though they are technically ‘old enough’ – and better swimmers than moi – I still can’t sit and just read. I have to watch. If I was drinking, I would at least feel like I was doing something.  A bit like the Seinfeld episode ‘The Junior Mint’ in which George goes to Jerry’s apartment to watch a movie he’s rented – alone – because that counts as doing something if he’s not home watching it solo…

Anyway, life is always going to have stress. I get that. It’s all that how you respond to it, all that cliché stuff, which is also so, so true. But that is so much harder than I thought it would be at times. Is it my kids’ ages and the requisite letting go, or the no alcohol, or some combination of the two? Am I really just a big anxious mess underneath the surface of what appears to be a functional life? Sometimes I do wonder.

So, yes, it was tough at times. I don’t want to sound as if I’m complaining about a holiday – I’m not. I loved it. I would do it all over again (okay, maybe not the snake part).  But I was surprised to discover the way alcohol had functioned for me while on a vacation, during what was supposed to be a ‘relaxing’ time. This proves what a sneaky minx alcohol can be. As I cannot remember the last time I had an AF holiday, this was a revelation. And a good reminder for my ‘why’ list and not my wine list.

But here are five of the tips and tricks I used during the daily ‘happy hour’ to avoid my encounter the wine witch:

 

  1. Diversions – this is one great thing about holidays. There are plenty of them! So much yummy food, beautiful things to see, long days full of sights and experiences. Some evenings, we just played Uno, and that worked too. So I didn’t have to resort to bathing the dog again. Thank Christ.

 

  1. Substitutes – while some non-drinkers find AF substitutes like near-beer absolute fucking torture – and the advice around them is varied in the AF communities – for me, they work a charm. It took a bit of trial and error to find ones that I like, but they do have a nice placebo effect. This also fulfills the ritual part of drinking for me, without having to substitute with a super-sweet kid drink like ginger ale or Pepsi.

 

  1. Put anything in your mouth you want except booze – *insert inappropriate joke here* – okay, and not smokes.  But hey, I’m going to carpe diem the ever-loving shit out of this holiday! We were also lucky enough to be in a foody Mecca in Tasmania. So whenever we got the chance, we made cheese platters at our campsite during happy hour. Ate our body weight in fish and chips. Had lots of ice cream – Valhalla lavender was by far one of the food highlights of Tassie for me. It was great being able to use calories that would normally be spent on alcohol on the great pleasure that is food in its many forms. And I didn’t have to feel guilty because: 1. I wasn’t drinking and this was my reward; 2. What I would eat in cheese and biscuits and feel satisfied with was probably the equivalent (calorie-wise) of two or three glasses of wine; and 3. I’m on VACATION! YOLO and all that jazz; and 4. Tasmania rarely requires bathing suits.

 

  1. Mornings – first, I slept like the dead, and it was absolutely wonderful. Not one bout of 3am hanxiety, always worsened when camping by all the unfamiliar sounds and creatures in the immediate surrounds. Of course my first thought is always ‘There’s a serial killer out there and we only have GODDAMN zippers for locks and our only weapon – the shovel – is in the car!’ (Okay, THIS is catastrophizing.) Anyway, the fresh air, the quiet early mornings, the activity-filled days, the fun-work of the camping process all combined, which meant I was like a felled like oak tree every night when I went to bed. And – bonus – no draggy and irritable feeling (aka, mild hangover) to contend with the next day.

 

  1. More patience – my kids would probably disagree with this one. But the wine witch as we know removes the niceness filter. And a lot of other protective filters, really. For me that means that I will usually and often lose my struggle against my barely-contained sarcasm and shortness with the kids when they ask me for, say, the 87th time where the milk is…‘WE are camping! It can only be ONE place!’ But Sober Kelly instead says, ‘Try the fridge in the car. I think there is some in there.’ And – fist bump – I DON’T even grit my teeth when I say it! God, I’m so adulting right now…

So, hey, that’s progress, right?

DISCLAIMER: This is all just based on my personal experience and insights, so take everything with a tremendous grain of salt. This is meant primarily for entertainment, not advice purposes. And also – please ignore any typos, but if you want to let me know, I really appreciate it! I always seem to miss one, and I often blog in a terrible rush…Thank you for reading.