It’s been a minute since I’ve written. More like 6 months actually, since I began working dayshift at the hospital.
Turns out I love working dayshift, but between the new hours and teaching during the school year, I have a lot less time to write. So I’ve been saving ideas, jotting down titles and a few paragraphs here and there in anticipation of summer when I work a lot less and (in theory) have a lot more time to do what I love. Which is write.
Now it’s summer and I’m on a multi-week vacation traveling through the beautiful PNW with (in theory) unlimited opportunity to write and create!
Maybe you don’t know, but I own a super sweet 1987 4×4 Volkswagen Syncro (though if you’re my precocious bandana wearing, sarcasm dripping student whom I will not name you might say “we have very different ideas of what a ‘sweet’ vehicle is.”) He’s right, it’s not a sports car. But she is sweet! Despite her unreliability and inability to go over 40mph uphill, Serendipity Syncro has been a miraculous addition to my life.
Initially I planned to travel internationally for summer vacay. Last year, I spent a week in Iceland and a week in Europe and can’t wait to get back. But Cassie the Wonder Dog is finally slowing down a bit at 14 years old. She’s begun limping after even moderate hikes or beach days. There’s no way I can spend weeks away from her, knowing we don’t have that many summers left together. If you could see her face and her wagging tail when we arrive at the shore or mountain trailhead, you’d understand.
Cassie and I are now on day 4 of The 1st annual PNW Recover and Rise Roadtrip. It’s really all about my pup having a big summer adventure. South down the coast, into the Redwoods of California, back up through Bend Oregon, and then taking a ferry onto Vancouver Island. Basically, I’m doing my best to explore all the accessible outdoor utopia possible in 21 days’ time.
Right in the middle of the trip is She Recovers Yoga Retreat on Salt Spring Island (read all about my love for it HERE!) It will be so nice to meet friends in the middle of the trip. I love traveling solo, but I’m not immune from loneliness. The retreat will give me a chance to connect, eat food prepared by someone else, laugh, deepen my recovery, and I’ll still have a week afterwards for solitude in the woods (and surfer boy stalking in Tofino!)
The first night of our adventure was spent in Manzanita – one of my all time favorite beach towns for long sandy walks, sunset gazing, and lazy river paddle boarding. It’s got enough shops and restaurants to keep everyone in the family happy without feeling overly touristy. Most of the cafes and stores have “dog hitching posts” right outside next to big bowls of cold water. But this time I was only there for a safe (free) place to sleep. If you’re a vanlifer like me, you can join the impromptu campground on the vista right off hwy 101 that overlooks the vast ocean.
Thursday morning after procuring coffee, Cassie and I headed south with a goal to hit Coos Bay by evening. We drove through Pacific City about breakfast time and decided to stop. Pacific City is a surfer’s dream; known for it’s northwest waves, dory boats speeding onto the sand, and a larger than life rock that arises out of the sea high into the sky. Many memories have been made at this beach…learning to surf with my brother and his wife, horseback riding with my daughter in the bluffs, watching the 2017 full solar eclipse on my birthday with good friends.
Pacific City is also the place I had my first wicked “public” hangover in over a decade, and began to realize I might really have a problem.
We were camping with my brother and his friends, all surfers from the Portland area. I was excited to spend time with him as an adult. We were getting to know each other in a new way as we finally shared some hobbies such as snow skiing and paddle boarding and had more in common than the wounds of our childhood.
It was summer 2013 and I was drinking most days. Not drunk every day… but definitely drinking most days. I was also taking Vicodin frequently. My use of pills had already surpassed medicinal for migraines and encroached on recreational…though not yet addictively. Surfing was an excellent excuse for recreational opiate ingestion.
If you haven’t tried surfing yet, you might not understand. But trust me, there’s a lot of pain involved.
Surfing is F’ing scary. As in the scariest sport I’ve ever attempted, especially along the WA and Oregon Coasts. The waves tumble humans like socks in a washing machine. Surfboards are not soft when they swing back and hit you in the head, and the thwack in the skull only adds to the disorientation of being somersaulted by the salty water.
I have a deep love of the ocean; am mesmerized by it, and take every opportunity to be close; to hear, touch, and smell it. But I also have a very healthy fear of the dark liquid filled with unpredictable sea creatures, slimy kelp, and thrashing waves.
(Don’t let this deter you from trying surfing. Really. I totally recommend it. Somewhere warm like Hawaii or Costa Rica.)
In my mind, a pain pill or two was justified. Just enough to calm my nerves and prevent the pain I knew was coming after hours being beaten by the cold water.
Surfing was also an excellent excuse to drink – as if I needed one. Hanging on the beach seems to erase any sense of time. A cold beer at 10am was not unheard of, even for non-alcoholics. We were on holiday! We could live it up, let loose! Socializing with new friends on a camping trip automatically called for alcohol lubricant.
In hindsight, self- medicating never works. Or when it does, it comes with intolerable consequences and suffering. The surf session ended, and night came. I remember downing large glasses of red wine, refilling my glass when no one was looking and feeling worried that we’d run out, so I’d refill it again before it was empty – to get my share. By morning I had no recollection of interacting with my brother or his friends. I also had no idea if the Vicodin/alcohol combination had helped me avoid the pain of surfing, because I was suffering the anguish of the worst hangover I’d had in years.
Humiliated, I dragged myself into the kitchen. Sharing a beach house meant taking turns with meals, and it was my turn to make breakfast for the whole crew. Sluggishly, I cracked eggs into a bowl and haphazardly whisked them around. A sick feeling rose from my belly and I desperately held back to need to vomit. I looked at my brother with embarrassment and panic. Our friendship was new and delicate; my need for him to see me as cool still strong. Even as an adult, I craved big brother’s approval. Limp and sweating out toxins, I was certain he’d be as disgusted with me as I was with myself.
He surprised me by gently taking the whisk and bowl out of my hands. Smiling kindly he said in his soft voice “go back to bed.”
“But…but…” I’d expected to at least be made fun of, if not seriously scolded. “But I have to take Kaytlyn horseback riding”. My daughter didn’t love the beach, so when I dragged her along on family trips, I tried to reward her by finding a place that offered horseback rides.
“I’ll take care of it,” he offered. His compassion evoked tears. (It still does.)
That afternoon was spent half asleep in the back of a camper van (very different one than I’m traveling in now), holding my stomach and sweating out the previous night’s indulgence in poison.
You’d think I’d learn. But if that was the case, “alcoholics” would not exist. By evening I was eating dinner at Pelican Brewing – the local brewery on the beach with an awe inspiring view of the jutting rock and salty horizon – ordering a 7.5% IPA, trying hard to forget my misery.
The sight of Pelican Brewing looking out over surfer boys still got me excited this trip…but not for the same reasons it used to. My current visit to Pacific City feels like worlds away from that disgraceful day.
I woke early and hangover free. Facing the water I laid out my yoga mat and drank from a large jug of cold water. Then I moved into a series of sun salutations, hip openers and standing poses as the ocean lapped the shore and wetsuit clad surfer boys and girls caught wave after wave. The water seemed to move in rhythmic undulation rather than a tortuous washing machine.
Cassie panted in the sand nearby, having completed her daily task of stick chasing in foamy whitewater and sniffing other dog’s behinds.
Breathing in the sea air, I remembered that hard day and felt sadness for the woman I was 6 years ago on the same beach. I wasn’t ignorant of the risks of alcohol but I was oblivious to the dangerous fire I was playing with.
My brother had no idea I was insidiously turning into a pill addicted alcoholic. He couldn’t have known. Years later, when I was once again too ill to share in the fun while visiting his family, I’m sure he was aware.
As I lay in child’s pose and let the ocean breeze sooth my sadness, I wondered if had I been shamed for my hangover, would it have made any difference? If I had been told to suck it up, make the eggs and get to the horse barn, would I have felt such strong remorse that I would reject alcohol and pills from that day forward?
I know in my heart that wouldn’t have been the case. I would have simply spent the day in greater shame, with more tears. I would have drank more that next night in secret, vs having my beer in public. It’s not hangovers that pushed me toward sobriety (though I’m relishing in my freedom from them now!) it was the realization of everything I was losing, neglecting, and missing out on while escaping through drugs and alcohol.
I’d like a do-over of that weekend. I’d like to re-experience squishing my body into a cold, salty wet suit, feet perpetually coated in sand, and the sound of my brother and child playing guitar together as we roasted marshmallows in the backyard firepit. I would do it different. I’d drink la croix, be the first to bed after washing dishes, and the first one up when the sun started to rise. I would make strong coffee and Swedish pancakes for everyone to wake to. When I whisked the eggs the only feeling I would have rising from my belly would be excitement for the day that lay ahead.
Reflecting on hangovers doesn’t feel great. I purposefully don’t spend much time in shame or regret because a) it sucks to do so, and b) research shows it’s not an effective way to change habits. Instead, I deliberately try to use memories as a way to cultivate compassion, heed teaching, and experience gratitude. Traveling sober is giving me an opportunity to re-create experiences. As I adventure, I’m looking for ways to heal, hope and love.
Vacation can be triggering for those recovering from substances. Old habits and stories are ingrained deep in our psyche, conditioning us to believe being on holiday inevitably means being drunk. The good news: sober travel is not only possible, it’s magical. (And it’s a good thing, because my VW van requires every bit of attention from my clear and sober mind!)
Have you traveled or vacationed without alcohol and found it to be enjoyable?
What do you love about it, and what has been hard?