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H – Hobbies and Holidays
Urrghh, hobbies. What a boring word. What a boring thing to do. Hobbies are for dullards with nothing better to do with their time.
Very occasionally I am beset with terribly gloomy thoughts relating to the reality of life and death – that we are all going to die; that in millions of years there will be nothing left of any of us except perhaps some space dust. When these morbid ideas pop into my head, I find it unnervingly simple to reduce everything in the world to a state of pointlessness. I mean, when the Earth is no longer a planet and the stars have all burnt out, there will be no significance whatsoever attached to anything we’ve ever achieved or enjoyed in our lifetimes, will there?
Obviously we can’t live our lives with the constant thought that we are, one day, going to pop our clogs because we’d never bother doing anything, caring for anything or anyone, or even getting out of bed in the morning. Albert Einstein once said, ‘There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle’, and this is what I tell myself whenever the aforementioned gloominess sets in. As children we are predisposed to perceiving everything as wondrous, and then adulthood creeps in and it all, sadly, turns a little sour. Or at least, it does if we allow it to.
And for those of us who position alcohol on a pedestal, who prioritise drinking over most other activities, hobbies can seem more than a little bit meaningless – distractions to while away the hours as we await the onset of old age. Drinking copious amounts of alcohol, on the other hand, is a worthwhile exercise and a good use of our time. After all, we are socialising, relaxing and letting our hair down – or so we like to think.
The problem with boozing as a pastime, however, is that it can, for people who are unable to moderate their intake terribly well, lead to a number of seriously negative consequences that impact on multiple areas of their lives. It doesn’t end with a night involving a few drinks; often it creates problems within our relationships, reduces our self- confidence and self-esteem, costs a lot of money from which we see little, if any, return, and acutely damages our health.
Regular drinking also occupies vast amounts of our time. From the planning to the imbibing to the recovery the following day, a heavy consumption of alcohol tends to dominate our lives. It leaves no spare hours whatsoever for pursuing any other activities – and besides, anything that doesn’t involve booze is surely a complete waste of time and something to be avoided like the plague, isn’t it?
Here then are the two most substantial reasons that I had no interest in hobbies for my entire adult life until I stopped drinking: firstly, if it didn’t involve booze then I didn’t want to be doing it, and secondly, hobbies are a stupid waste of time and something that only dull people do.
But then I became a non-drinker, and none of the above applied any longer. Hobbies, I quickly realised, are not just distractions but an excellent means of achieving numerous other goals. For a start, many pastimes (booze-free of course) will necessarily involve interacting with other people. If you sign up to a writing class or join a gym, partake in a regular film or book club or learn how to rock climb, you will be meeting new faces, some of whom may well become friends. These people will probably not hold alcohol in quite as high regard as you have always done, hence their interest in your chosen activity (or maybe they will be exactly like you, looking for alcohol-free ways to spend their time because they too want to be sober on a permanent basis). All of this will aid your booze-free endeavours enormously, as well as providing a welcome distraction from drinking in the early days when the cravings are still hitting in frequent tidal waves.
In addition to making interesting new friends who don’t consider booze to be the be-all and end-all (which in itself will help boost your confidence), taking part in a hobby will help increase your self- belief. This is because you will be trying something different and gradually proving to yourself you’re capable of things that you previously thought you couldn’t manage. There is an immense rush of satisfaction to be found in reaching targets – being able to converse comfortably in a foreign language or running for several miles after being unfit for years, for example, are achievements that will spur you on and help create a feeling of inner strength and invincibility. They will reignite the exciting sense of potential (most likely buried after years of drinking excessively) that we all possess in our youth – the dreams we once regarded as entirely within our grasp, but which, as we mature into adults, somehow wither away to nothing.
Partaking in a hobby works wonders for the soul. Just because the thought of crocheting or collecting stamps might send you into a deep slumber, you shouldn’t assume that all pastimes will be of no interest to you. There is something for everyone; it’s just a matter of discovering what that may be for you.
I am passionate about writing and exercising, spending time with my children and our dog. I love animals and bird watching, and I derive great pleasure from being out in the countryside. I also, once I became alcohol-free, began baking again – something I adored as a child but which, once the booze bus came along, got sidelined along with so many other activities I had once enjoyed. And while admittedly I did engage in most of these interests when I was a drinker, it was with limited enthusiasm and vigour, largely because they simply got in the way of my passion for wine. Even the cinema was as an inconvenience as it equated to a night out without alcohol – or, at the very best, only a couple of drinks squeezed in either side of the film which was, quite frankly, deeply frustrating.
The pastimes I enjoy now as a non-drinker are ones to which I apply myself fully. If I’m out walking in the hills, it is this and only this that demands my attention. I’m not thinking of pints of beer in a country pub, or contemplating how much drinking time I’ll have left when I arrive home as a result of wasting hours marching about unnecessarily in the countryside. When I’m baking with my younger daughter, it isn’t with one eye on the clock, wishing the hours away in order to reach her bedtime and my wine o’clock. And if I am writing, I am doing so with pure concentration as opposed to harbouring feelings of resentment, because really all I want to do is switch off my laptop and get stuck into a bottle
If there’s one thing all heavy drinkers have in common it is that they occupy a miniscule world. Alcohol consumption (when it’s regular and intense) shrinks our existence, creating a daily schedule based on nothing more than getting pissed and subsequently recovering. Meeting new friends is, quite honestly, exhausting – unless they too are only interested in getting sloshed, and then it’s irrelevant whom we are talking to because all parties present are inebriated. Anything that doesn’t involve drinking is abandoned for obvious reasons, and activities that demand concentration and commitment are a total waste of time as who can deliver such attributes when half cut?
But hobbies, when one is alcohol-free, broaden horizons – they help to expand an individual’s world. Doing nothing is tolerable when you are drinking to cushion the tedium of it; take the alcohol away and being bored is quite awful. This tends to force the non-drinker out of his or her comfort zone and into new activities, enjoyed alongside different people and in previously uncharted territory. There is nowhere to hide when you are stone cold sober – it becomes essential to fill empty evenings and weekends with something constructive. And although it might feel as scary as hell, doing it should provoke the desire to keep doing it, to push on further in order to find out exactly what you are capable of.
And so to holidays, which are to the average heavy boozer a perfect excuse for an extended piss- up. Most people who are alcohol-dependent will only usually stall a drinking session due to various unavoidable obstacles and restrictions: work, children and the desire not to be perceived as a hopeless drunk. Remove these standard daily interruptions to one’s alcohol consumption, and what are you left with? That’s correct: a holiday.
People are allowed to drink a lot on holiday – that is to say, boozy behaviour from those jetting off to sunnier climes is considered socially acceptable. How many of us have witnessed fellow travellers downing pints of lager in the airport at some ungodly hour before the sun has even risen? When I drank alcohol, I would routinely consume two or three large glasses of wine during my time spent at the airport and on board the plane. This was, I reassured myself, purely down to my fear of flying and was therefore entirely justified. And once we arrive at our chosen destination, we frequently feel entitled to enjoy a few drinks to help us unwind and really make the holiday go with a bang. We are not required to be up early in the mornings, everyone is generally more relaxed, and thus alcohol seems to suit the mood perfectly.
The issue here (once again) for those of us devoid of the off-switch is that we do not drink like other people do. Beginning with a higher level of acceptable than your average moderate drinker, our holiday drinking can quickly escalate to monumental proportions. If a bottle of wine a night is standard when at home, the vacation equivalent is likely to exceed three bottles. And this is not an ingredient for a happy holiday for anyone present.
What, then, is the newly teetotal person to expect when travelling for the first time minus a steady flow of booze to fill up all the unwanted cracks in their happiness? Because let’s face it, if you have always consumed alcohol as an adult then all your holidays will have been booze-fuelled weeks of mayhem. And if you’re anything like me as a drinker, alcohol was the whole point of a holiday.
I believe there are some hard and fast rules to help the people for whom this book was written (i.e. those who are incapable of moderating their consumption and are learning how to live without booze) enjoy alcohol-free holidays. You probably will not be able to incorporate all of the following into your next holiday, or even the one after that. Like much of life after drinking, adjustments will take time, effort and planning. But if you work towards these aims, you’ll get there eventually and so will be able to look forward to feeling content and rejuvenated during and after your future holidays – which is far preferable to arriving home with the mother of all hangovers and nothing to show for your fortnight away except an extra spare tyre and bags the size of suitcases under your eyes.
AF Holiday Rule #1: choose a location that interests you. Frankly, when you drink a lot, you could be holidaying on a landfill site and you wouldn’t notice all that much (at least, not after you’d sunk the first couple of jugs of Sangria). However, things are wildly different when you are completely sober; in fact, the exact opposite is true. You’ll really notice your environment, and it will become, apart from the break from working and the company of whomever you are holidaying with, the most important element of your time away. Since I quit alcohol, I’ve picked locations that are historically, culturally or geographically interesting to me. I also look for places conducive to fitness activities such as cycling, hiking, surfing or skiing as I love all of these things and engaging daily in any of them is my idea of heaven. My worst nightmare would be a noisy, bar-filled resort, rammed with people all seeking a mental escape. But whatever rocks your boat! Just make sure that wherever you go, you’re going to enjoy it for what it has to offer other than booze.
AF Holiday Rule #2: go on holiday with people you like. This may prove difficult for some as alcohol conceals all sorts of dissatisfactions – not least an unhappy relationship. When we are drinking heavily, it detracts from the true dynamic of a partnership; take the booze away and giant holes could be revealed, especially on holiday where the everyday busyness of life comes to a standstill. Aside from our partner, there are also friends to consider. As discussed earlier in the book, we usually choose similarly heavy drinkers in our social circles when we ourselves drink – precisely the type of people we wouldn’t want to spend a week with sober. If you are planning on being a non-drinker on a permanent basis, it may be necessary to cut loose some friends and even your partner, should the incompatibilities become unmanageable without the veil of alcohol disguising them. Holidays should be fun and relaxing, and they will be if you are with the right person or people. A week away in close quarters with someone you can barely stand to be in the same room with will amount to a hellish experience.
AF Holiday Rule #3: avoid places with memories of drinking copious amounts. As a teenager I visited Faliraki and Kavos, both in Greece and both with the infamous 18–30 Holiday company. Booze cruises, bar crawling, scooting about on the back of boys’ mopeds while wearing a tiny bikini and being fairly hammered–I partook in all of the average English person’s Mediterranean holiday clichés. As the years progressed I visited many cities, mountains, beaches and picturesque villages, and in most of them I carved out some reasonably distressing alcohol-related memories. I would advise avoiding like the plague any holiday location that will remind you of drinking until you have at least a couple of AF years under your belt. Triggers will be firing off at an alarming rate if you descend on a place where, in days gone by, you would have been getting quietly sloshed in a little bar somewhere, or necking pina coladas on the beach beneath a particularly pleasing palm tree. The sun, the omission of restrictions (work being the main one), together with the strong impulse to let your hair down because you are on holiday could all prove too much to withstand. Go easy on yourself and pick a new destination with no drinking memories – good or bad.
AF Holiday Rule #4: find time to meditate. You’ll have more free hours on holiday than you do at home so there’s no excuse for not doing this. Devote a few minutes every morning to meditating, repeating a mantra pertaining to using your holiday to relax and recharge your batteries, and you’ll really help yourself stay focused on this goal. Meditation aids mindfulness and encourages a sense of calm – remind yourself each day that relaxation is the reason why you are on holiday and you’ll be prioritising it clearly in your mind, which, in turn, will assist you throughout the day to achieve this aim.
AF Holiday Rule #5: be a bit selfish. You work your bum off all year, traipsing round after other people, picking things up and washing their clothes, restocking the fridge and cleaning the loo. Then you go on holiday and, if you aren’t careful, you end up doing exactly the same thing there. This endless domestic slog results (unsurprisingly) in major feelings of resentment and bitterness. And both of these emotions are especially helpful in pushing you towards the wine section of the local supermarket. My advice would be to pre-empt this and outline expectations pre-holiday with your nearest and dearest. Explain that this is your holiday too and you deserve and need a rest, just like your travel companions. Work out how best to achieve a holiday from which everyone benefits and, if necessary, pencil in a few hours here and there just for you where you do the things you love doing, free from the responsibilities of the kids or whoever else you’re going away with.
Hobbies and holidays are equally brilliant for injecting passion and excitement back into your life once the alcohol has been shelved. Work at embracing them. If you run from them, too frightened to try your hand at anything new, you’ll be missing out on vast amounts of enjoyment and satisfaction. Both hobbies and holidays will boost your personal growth, helping to build confidence and self-esteem, and could lead you to new adventures that you never imagined in your wildest dreams. The key to having a good time without booze is to live in the moment, and we will look at this in more detail in the chapter on mindfulness later in the book.