The Comfort Zone Project and my quest to not be “fat” in Thailand are leading me down a path of mindful eating, five-day-a-week workout sessions (three of which are with a personal trainer) and breaking up with booze.

OK. So, not really “breaking up,” but more like “we’re going into a very restricted relationship. Almost like a break-up, but from time-to-time, we can still hook-up and remember how much we loved each other.”

Cause, yeah … I’m not ready to quit you, sweet red wine. I just need more time for me than you.

Remember Zima?

Zima

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: kazunoriyokoi

My relationship with alcohol began when I was a teen, as most stories of underage shenanigans begin. I didn’t even like booze at first. It tasted nasty, but that is likely because as high school students, we were totally inexperienced drinkers.

While I didn’t drink much in high school, I definitely had my little trysts with the hooch. At my friend’s house on some half-days, we’d go down to her dad’s liquor cabinet and grab the chocolate liqueor because, well, it sounded tasty and a shot is supposed to get you wasted, right? Then, we’d ruin it with orange juice (see, I told you we didn’t know any better), fill the bottle back up with some water, place it back in the cabinet, then head upstairs with a cheeky buzz.

I remember when Zima came out. It was the rage at my high school. People would doodle the brand’s name on their brown-bag-covered text books and most epic weekend party stories began and ended with name-dropping the clear (and crappy) alcoholic beverage’s name.

Fake IDs and Freshmen Life

Natural Ice Beer

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Young Calico

In college, we were a bit more civilized. We opted for picking our poison, rather than being at the mercy of the grown-up’s stash. Armed with fake IDs or an upperclassman, we’d head to the drive-up liquor store and purchase tasty cases of Keystone Light or Natural Ice (yeah, we still didn’t know any better and uttering “micro-brew” would have made us wonder what science lecture we missed). Occasionally, I’d be bold and try some hard stuff like Southern Comfort or Seagrams 7 (which, to this day, I cannot stomach thanks to the way that crap tastes coming back up).

Nights in Bowling Green, Ohio (where I partied … er attended college … for 1-1/2 years) were a mix of frat parties, dorm room binge drinking and the worst — filling up a mug with boxed white zin and taking it into the shower and drinking it there because the hot water thins your blood and then you are drunk quick — and then promptly the puking of said alcohol content thanks to the gruesome image of warm mayonnaise sandwiches in the microwave when the spinning got to be too much.

Of Legal Age

When I finally turned 21 in Towson, I had already done my fair share of partying. After all, I had someone else’s expired Maryland driver’s license and was a regular in the college town bar scene, so the owners and staff of the bar I went to knew I wasn’t 21. When someone did card me, they’d turn the card over in their hand, question me as to why it was expired, and then did a shot with me.

At 22, I got into a relationship with an alcoholic  10 years my senior, and the boozing continued. Our poison back then was shots of Gran Marnier in little thimble glasses at the bar where I used to work. Followed by pints (yup) of Red Bull and Grey Goose, Blue Moon (see, I got a little classier) or Coors Light bottles (and there goes the class).

It really never stopped.

On the road

Drinking Pilsner in Prague

Sweet, sweet Pilsner in Prague.

In my travels, going out for drinks has always been a bonding experience with fellow backpackers. I never thought to pass on the booze and just sip water. I have always wanted to be in the moment, to be engaged with others (i.e. make out with the cute backpacker boys with foreign accents), and I always assumed the only way to do that was to be like them.

Plus, when traveling, I feel like the world gives us permission to have a glass of chilled white wine while overlooking the Adriatic Sea … at 10 a.m. Or, having a Pilsner because, hello, I’m in Prague. Or a shot of Jameson because Ireland and my liver isn’t vital, right?

So many of my most incredible nights in foreign countries have included booze. It served as a celebration for new friends, a reward for finding the hostel with crap directions, something to calm my nerves.

I could never pass it down because it always seemed like it was the right thing to do … the right moment to have that beer/wine/shot/moonshine.

Until now.

Chang and Chiang Mai

Granted, I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. In the environments I have lived, I have always kept up, but never needed booze. I have never woken up with the shakes (although I have had some nasty hangovers), but drinking has never impacted my life in a negative sense — unless you count the general unhealthiness of it.

Living as an expat in Chiang Mai, I noticed something about myself I didn’t like — when I wasn’t at the office, when I wasn’t sleeping, I was drinking. Why? Well, a lot of it stems from sheer boredom. I’d get home after a day at the office and didn’t want to sit in my house, alone. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to do anything … but leave and go hang out with the other expats who like to have fun.

I was stuck in this comfort zone that I knew wasn’t good for me, but made me feel good.

A whisky bucket in Bangkok.

Buckets of booze are prevalent in Thailand. And tasty.

I liked the company. I liked the buzz. I didn’t like the hangover, but I learned how to skip that with the help of 500 mg of Paracetamol. (Not healthy, I know.)

I quit you (ish)

So, with the launch of The Comfort Zone Project, I decided to change the way I engage with others. To replace nights of Sang Som and Coke with nights of Singha Drinking Water. Not every night … I let myself not be straight-edge once a week or so … but that’s it.

It’s been interesting so far.

Sitting at Tiger Bar, one my local hangouts, I pull up a shallacked wooden bench to join my friends. The owner of the bar, Dang, comes up to me when she sees the chilled bottle of water her husband had given to me, sitting on the patterned tablecloth.

“You drink water?” She asks, looking confused.

“Ka,” I say, smiling and grabbing the little bottle.

“You not drink wine?” Disbelief.

“Ka,” I say.

She smiles, slaps my shoulder playfully, and then walks away.

Thankfully, most of my friends don’t pressure me. They all know I am trying to make changes in my life. To escape the suck of Loi Kroh, the candelight of The Lost Hut, the raunchy talks at Smith.

I go home early as the rest of my friends continue on with their night. I don’t go home because I am bored. I go home because I want to.

For the first time in a long time, I am listening to my body, listening to my mind. Not listening to the part of me that says “you have nothing else to do with your time.”

Cause, you know what?

I do have other things to do with my time.

I explore more of the city. I communicate and keep in touch with friends from all over the world. I catch up on all of the television shows I miss. I cuddle with my rescue cats. I write. Goodness, I  write. I plan my next trip (coming soon!). I go to sleep early. I wake up feeling energized instead of groggy and shity. I  pick up more Thai since being sober is my new lifestyle choice. I am more mindful of my living and how I choose to live, and the company I keep. I  have revitalized and stronger, healthier relationships with like-minded people and have established boundaries I needed with others. I’ve learned more about the things — and people — I want in my life. I talk to my parents more. I focus more on me. I work my ass out. And, I am happy and have a good time without being drunk.

Even in the early stages of my decision to only drink twice a week (I’m five weeks in to this new lifestyle),  I feel really good about it. I’ve even surprised myself. My two nights a week of “party” have turned into maybe two nights a week. And the “party” has been replaced with a few select beverages. The first real party I allowed myself was seven drinks in six hours, plus plenty of water. I wasn’t drunk. But, the next morning, I had a hangover that lasted 36 hours. Yes. Thirty. Six. Hours. The following week, I had three beers over six hours and woke up with a headache. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t fair. But it is my body’s way of telling me to keep with the healthy behaviors and leave the toxic ones behind.

So, Comfort Zone: 0; Diana: 1.

16 comments

  1. Well done for sticking with it for five weeks. Kirsty has stopped drinking as much since the new year and mentions the same thing with hangovers, even a couple of drinks make her feel pretty rough in the mornings where before she would have been fine.

    And drinking in the shower? is that actually a thing people do?

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    1. Haha, Poi! It was something I did at 17 to get drunk quicker! Ridiculous. It is so nice to be bright-eyed in the morning! And, not drinking! Tell Kirsty I said “fantastic job!”

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  2. It’s interesting reading your expat drinking habits. I was never a huge drinker back in the states.But the first few months after I left to live this life of perpetual travel…OMG. I experienced the same thing, out every night, no job, no driving etc…made it all so easy.

    Oh those expat bars. Talk about 7 days a week of parties!

    I was and still am amazed at how much alcohol I was to ingest! Luckily, it turns outI am not prone to hangovers either.

    I had to fly to a different continent to get out of my (drinking) rut. Good luck with the project!

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    1. It is like being abroad gives you permission to drink all of the time. It is the social scene here, and it is hard to avoid unless you get out of that environment and get out and meet people. For me, it was a long time of never venturing outside of the block I lived, never going out to meet other people, networking, working on me. It was just nights spent in sticky weather drinking cheap beer and having drunken conversations with people. Thanks so much for your support!

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  3. Your blog is inspiring and your comfort zone project has given me a kick up the butt to make some long overdue changes too, so keep up the good work and keep racking up your score!!

    I applaud you. It’s not easy avoiding the ‘ex-pat’ trap that is alcohol. It begins so innocently, but is so habitual.
    When we moved to rural France 6 years ago it was startling the number of expats who had found themselves at the bottom of a wine bottle or two by lunch and I made a very conscious decision not to become one of those. Especially as my husband works abroad most of the time and it was me and a small person ( who went to bed at 8pm) at home, the temptation to have ‘just the one’ was ever present so I decided that I would not drink alone. I had the occasional gin and tonic I’ll admit, but on the whole it worked well and I left 5 year later with my liver intact!!
    Since moving here its a very different scenario ( lots more to do, husband at home more, tons of visitors), and I realised that without noticing I had started to drink every night ( just one or two beers after dinner…then maybe some nights a few more….). It’s so easy to get into the habit of drinking. I don’t even really like drinking that much, it was just habit. So a couple of months ago I self imposed a ‘not on a school night’ policy and already I feel so much better for it.

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    1. I was the same way for 1 1/2 years. It is just so easy to slip into that lifestyle, particularly when most people here don’t hold day jobs, but work for themselves, are retired or somehow manage to balance copious nights of binge drinking followed by smelling like a bar at work the next day. I’m glad you imposed that rule. It’s my rule, too! Since I started that, I wake up early and do stuff in the morning, instead of roll out of bed and hope I don’t reek like last night’s alcohol of choice. I’m glad you are finding inspiration in my blog and what I am doing. I hope it can motivate others to work on themselves and their own happiness, too.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this. I saw so much of myself in your words. I was never a big drinker in high school or college, yet when I left to go backpacking I found myself downing 10 shots of tequila in one night. Don’t get me wrong, those days of getting wasted in Cancun were fun, but now that I have a different purpose in my travels, booze just gets in the way. I’d rather wake up at the crack of dawn when the locals are out shopping in the markets and marvel in another culture than lay in bed with a hangover. Perhaps it’s part of getting older or perhaps it’s part of realizing that our travels aren’t just a holiday anymore, they are our lives. As usual, a beautiful, honest post from you. xo

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    1. For some reason, I find it so easy to drink while traveling. I agree with you — I’d rather wake up and DO STUFF and not waste the days. Since I have cut down as much as I have, I find myself waking up early, walking to work, enjoying my weekends and being productive and, some mornings, heading to yoga. I just feel so much better. Thank you honey!

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  5. I am going through a “detox” phase which I hope will morph into a lifestyle, my issue is not with booze, but have a few unhealthy vices that are taking their toll on my health.

    I’m in week one of no more bad stuff, your story is inspirational. Thank you.

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  6. I can so relate to this post! Drinking has always been one of my biggest vices. Damn it for being appropriate for so many different occasions/ feelings IE: Awesome day! Let’s celebrate with a drink!/ What a shit day…let’s grab a drink. Haha.

    Since doing more traveling that’s been a struggle of mine. Trying to live more mindfully and stick to the healthy lifestyle I’ve slowly started transitioning into. But like you said, it seems once you make the switch every time you do go a little too hard on the partying your physical and mental state suffers seemingly more intensely. It’s as if your body is like “You’ve been an asshole so here’s a reminder as to why we need to keep health”, cue horrible hangover.

    Good luck with it all and congrats 😀

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    1. It still is a vice for me, just a controlled one. I have no problem just staying out of the drinking scene, but once I make the decision to have a drink, then it is harder to keep it under control. I don’t get rip-roaringly wasted, but given that I don’t drink often, even a few now gets me drunk/hungover. I still feel the urge to self medicate via booze when things don’t go my way, but I try to channel that by going to the gym or putting things in perspective. Is it WORTH feeling bad about the decision later?

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