check my carry-on (travel habits pt. 3)

A plan is just a description of what I hope to achieve; I achieve it by stringing together some appropriate skills and tools. They tend to sound deceptively simple. Measuring, counting, and tracking, for instance, are ridiculously basic (and yet, somehow, I did not manage to do any of those things during my 15-some years of heavy drinking, so perhaps they aren’t that simple at all!). But when I first started trying to moderate, I was appalled by the suggestion that counting my drinks would somehow fix my drinking…and of course, it won’t. It’s just one of many tools that add up to a sum that is greater than its parts. For those interested, I think the Responsible Drinking book is a better resource for those tools (and for moderation in general) than this blog.

When I think about the tools I already have, I am reminded that one of my favorite, and most fundamental, tools is abstinence. I guess that may not be intuitively obvious (people looking to moderate may not be hoping to focus on abstaining; people aiming to abstain often see the two things as contradictory; etc.), but for me, my moderation efforts are built on a strong foundation of skipping lots of drinks. I’ve written about this before, but in my earlier months, I used to picture abstinence as a large, comfortable safety raft. Anytime I felt like I was getting in over my head, I could haul myself onto my raft and enjoy a calm, safe pause. I practiced saying “no thanks,” or deciding not to drink that day, countless times, because I wasn’t comfortable saying yes unless I know I could comfortably experience the same situation without a drink in hand. I think vacation works the same way, it just plays some funny games with my mind.

Abstinence itself requires some planning and tools, of course, otherwise no one would be a problematic drinker. For instance, I would like to check into a hotel, freshen up, and then spend the evening doing something other than drinking. For me, that’s a behavior that really does take hard work. I need to consider what to do instead of drinking. Read? Work? Go for a walk? All of the above? Figuring it out takes some planning, a lot of practice, and then usually a bit of refinement (then more practice, and more), but it’s amazing when it all starts to pull together into a routine. I used to come home, walk through the back door, and immediately pour myself a glass of wine from the box on the counter. Now, I come home and rarely even think about drinking at all. I’d awfully proud of having built that!

Some specific travel skills I want to build include:

  • Checking into a hotel/motel (or other accommodation) and spending the evening doing things other than drinking. This is built from tools like stress-management, urge-surfing (and other urge techniques), distraction, etc..
  • Continuing to practice skills like having one drink at a restaurant (and then stopping). This relies on tools that control my BAC (like pacing, eating, choosing low ABV drinks, etc.).
  • Enjoy the drinks I do have. Mindfulness is one tool here.
  • Avoiding dramatic overages (my “no hangovers” goal). Harm reduction is good, and things like proper hydration, spacing, controlling the amount of alcohol available, and so forth are really valuable, especially in situations where I am still struggling with healthier habits (like vacations!).

My experience is that many of these tools travel with me. I have experience with things like delaying, distracting, and (to some degree!) stress management. I’m just trying to put these things together in a new situation. I’m not starting from scratch, but that doesn’t mean things will be easy either — behaviors have to be practiced over and over to become habits, so using my tools in these specific situations is not going to happen on autopilot. At least for now.

There is one travel-related skill I have practiced again and again: sticking the landing. When I get home from a trip, long or short, I have practiced immediately resuming my healthy habits, until I finally felt it become second-nature. Just like abstinence used to be my safety raft, this solid feeling that I can slide right back into my new routines, no spiral-of-escalating-drinking, helps give me security and confidence. So that’s a given. A few more thoughts on some trigger-specific strategies will follow in the fourth part.


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