From my first family trip (outside of the USA) to the Dominican Republic at 11-years-old, I have had the itch to travel. Traveling became an exploration and incredible outlet for me to seek – something I was always doing. I was a curious child and am an even more curious adult, and I have this desire to see everything and meet everyone. My first trip without my parents was to a leadership camp in Switzerland when I was 16-years-old, followed by a trip to Greece and Turkey with the art department at my high school. After that trip, I was officially hooked.
Traveling was a wonderful adventure and a way for me to have experiences that felt totally my own. I met people from around the world, some who are still dear friends today. The thing is, as my addiction took off, my travel experiences started to change.
I spent a summer in Spain and remember far too many hungover days trying to teach English lessons to children. When I think about Queen’s day in Amsterdam the next year, I fainted due to anxiety and really just running my body into the ground. I continued to have hilarious adventures stories and great experiences, but I also continued to put myself in extremely dangerous situations. As a young woman, traveling on your own can present its own challenges. Traveling on your own as an alcoholic in her early twenties is a whole other ball-game. There are a few weekends I am lucky I made it out of alive. My last one, in Paris, visiting a friend of mine resulted in me having to cancel my train ticket back to England and her pay for it for me because I was too sick to get on the train. That was followed by a weekend in Ireland where I ended up in the hospital (it was St. Patty’s day, after all).
As my addiction progressed, traveling became another form of escape. A place to run to where I could be anyone I wanted to be and I could continue to seek something outside of myself to fill a void within me. It wasn’t until recovery that I was able to be where my feet are in each moment. I have come to a place where I actually enjoy coming home from a trip as much as being on it as I experience joy within myself now that I was aiming to gain elsewhere.
There have been so many gifts coming into sobriety, but my new experiences traveling are close to the top. I went to Italy with my mom in early recovery, and I genuinely didn’t know how I was going to survive an overnight flight without getting plastered ahead of time. People sleep on planes and aren’t drunk? Didn’t know it was possible. Our entire trip in Italy taught me that gelato is insane (well, I sort of already knew that, but I was eating several gelato every day) and that I can actually spend my days filled with so many richer and fulfilling experiences when the trip is centred around hitting up the next bar or wandering around trying not to be sick.
Traveling Indonesia with my dear friend 9 or so months into my recovery without access to a meeting for 3 weeks taught me how to be present. How to actually sit with myself, enjoy my own company, and really rely on a power greater than myself when I am having a hard time. I had some of the greatest experiences of my life on that trip.
So, in recovery, how can you make sure your travel experiences are meaningful and fulfilled, rather than a recipe for disaster and relapse?
1. Remember, wherever you go, there you are. There is no such thing as “different postal code’s so it doesn’t count”. You are accountable for you and your life. If you pick up a drink or act out, that will still be with you when you go home. Be present and true to you.
2. Get to meetings in new countries. If you go to twelve-step meetings, pick locations that have the opportunity to go to meetings in a new place. It has been so rewarding and an amazing opportunity to stay grounded, connected, and meet people from all over the world! There are English meetings everywhere.
3. Ramp up your daily routine. Travelling is an incredible opportunity to really connect with yourself. Meditate, journal, and pray every day and enjoy the opportunity to get out of your daily life at home and connect with yourself.
4. Stay connected to the people at home you need to. Sponsors, friends, most therapists do online meetings as well. Make sure you still have everything in place for if you are feeling uneasy.
5. Stay grateful and present. When bumps in the road come, as they do when traveling, take it as a learning opportunity and a way to be grateful for the adventure.
More and more, traveling became a deeper window into my soul, and an act of self-care and a necessity for me. With each new experience, I was reminded of what I can do without a drink. I was reminded that I can do anything without drinking. That the world is literally in the palm of my hand, and the only thing I can’t do today, is pick up a drink or a drug.
What travelling and exploring the world does for me, more than anything, is it brings me into the present moment. I have to be present for everything – taking in the sights, smells (oh the smells of Asia) and experience, as well as navigating and deciding where to go. It has brought me in touch with what I actually want to be doing, and that I have a choice in how I spend my days. It allows me to meet people in recovery from around the world and reminds me that I am not alone. It lets me know that I have infinite choices in my life and gives me the space to get in touch with my authentic self and my authentic needs. It allows me to have so much fucking gratitude for the beautiful life I live today and all of the immense blessings I have in my life. It reminds me that there is immense suffering happening in Canada, but I am so lucky to be from the country and upbringing that I am.
I have now been living in Korea for nearly 10 months. I would have never survived in Korea if I was drinking the way I was. It has been the most life-changing year for me, and I credit my recovery for my ability to really grow and be present. I was so worried about being on this particular path in life, that I wouldn’t have taken this opportunity. I would have been too afraid of what might happen. I would have been too afraid of what people would think about me taking off at 27. I would have been afraid of “losing” a year on the road to some arbitrarily measured success I was aiming for in my life. I was making all of my decisions based on the external, and not on what was really right and best for me. This year has given me so much – but that’s for another post.
I am writing this post from Vientiane, Laos – a place that was certainly not on my radar, but hey, why not. It has been a beautiful weekend and I have been able to catch up with a friend from Canada, relax and regroup, and take in a new culture.
Laos is officially the 40th country I have been to, the 9th country of this wild year. I wouldn’t have made it to 40 countries if I was still drinking. Or, if I had, I wouldn’t have actually taken in more than the inside of a bar or my bed for half the day trying to recover.
I am reminded, each and every day, that sobriety doesn’t happen easily, and I don’t know what would happen to me if I picked up a drink again. I was given an opportunity to evolve and grow by some sort of miracle, and I am blessed I have made it through. All I have is today, and today, I am sober and grateful.