Sober milestones can come in many forms. A huge accomplishment for many of my clients’ is flying sober. I mean literally flying. Like in an airplane. It takes some resolve to successfully accomplish this feat, as the airport is full of opportunities to drink.
There are actual liquor bottles sized specifically for the occasion of flying. Airports resemble Vegas in that it never sleeps, there’s changing time zones, and you’re neither here nor there. It’s never day or night. An airport is some sort of ether world. A perpetual party, never ending vacation take off, networking extravaganza, mini city of strangers, with endless options for drinking without shame and stigma.
The airport can be a lonely place of goodbyes and happy bartenders are waiting to greet you at every corner. There is a person willing to lend a hand, a shoulder, and a soothing brew to jump ship on your uncomfortable emotions. Airport bars are open and available at all hours. Travelers are bellied up to the bar all times of day and night. It is afterall… wine o clock somewhere. Who are we to judge?
When you add in the nerves associated with flying, including fear of death, alcohol becomes an ineffective but quick fix for anxiety. The stress of going through security can be lulled with a nip. There is also the stress of getting to the airport, which starts the night before with panic and a double/triple check that you have your alarm set. You start your travel day off with a bang. An alarming cortisol spike, unsure of when you’ll be able to calm down. A cold glass of depressant seems like an appropriate way to balance it all out.
You might be going somewhere new and leaving the comforts of home. The anticipation and fear of the unknown can be a lot to take. Do you have the right app for your tickets? The right documents? Directions? The address of where you are going? You probably forgot something really important. Toothpaste. A phone charger. Your sandals. Is your suitcase too heavy? Does it fit? Are things going as planned?
For whatever reason, or any and all of these reasons, you may have used alcohol as the ultimate crutch to help you stumble through the challenges of air travel. Perhaps you even created drinking traditions. The airport pub where you get a spicy Bloody Mary to signify vacation has started, and also to calm your nerves. You have equated alcohol with the fun of getting away and you’re afraid without alcohol, there will be no fun.
SOBRIETY IS WITHOUT A DOUBT THE BEST ADVENTURE OF MY LIFE. To get you on the joy path, you first need to make it through the airport, alcohol free. You need to arrive at your destination with the same clarity, health, confidence, and sobriety that you left with. Here’s a few tips to help.
1- Sober Travel Kit
When my kids were little I had a whole bag of goodies to keep them entertained on plane rides. One by one I would pull out surprises. A Root Beer sucker, a coloring book, a new stuffed animal. I would pull my magic out of my hat at strategic intervals to keep my children occupied for the duration of the trip. As an adult sober traveler, you can create the same for yourself. My personal alcohol free travel kit includes something for all the senses. Something to smell (lavender essential oil). Something to taste (Cheez Its, Swedish fish, bedtime tea from home, and pumpkin seeds). Something to touch (a neck pillow, silky eye mask,hydrating face mist, and cashmere pashmina). Something to see (adult coloring books, the daily Wordle, a great fiction book, a movie). Something to hear (my badass playlist and a relaxing meditation). What can you load up and look forward to pulling out for reward and surprises to enjoy on your flight? Get yourself a sober travel kit.
2- Go Shopping
Skip that airport bar in favor of going shopping. Splurge on gum, a million dollar magazine (baby you’re worth it), a bag of nuts, fancy sparkling water, and even a new book. Browse that airport bookstore, newsstand, and factor into your budget whatever you spent on alcohol to be reallocated to fun treats purchased in the airport. A new sweatshirt? Replenish that fancy lotion you had to throw away at security. Lip gloss. Duty free perfume? Spend your time shopping and spoiling yourself, not drinking. Some airports have cupcake vending machines, manicure salons, and massage chairs. Do it. Spoil yourself. Vacation does begin now and it doesn’t begin in a dirty pub with sad people smelling like stale beer and bleach. It begins with sticking to your plan and taking tender loving care of yourself.
3- Reward system
You can celebrate and congratulate yourself at every point. One client loved Rolo chocolates. She allowed herself one chocolate upon arrival at the airport. One when she made it through security. One when she made it to her gate. One when she got on her plane. One when she ordered a soft drink instead of alcohol. One when she landed completely sober. It might sound silly, but having a tangible award at each checkpoint gave her something to look forward to and this action rewired the reward circuit in her brain to encourage continued alcohol free choices. She visually walked through and articulated the plan with me on our call before her travel day. She could see herself successfully making it. Since she had already done it in her mind’s eye, she was able to do it in real life when the time came. It’s like an uplevel in a video game of collecting more stars or gaining more super powers. She felt stronger and stronger as she successfully accomplished each move and that fueled the next move. Visualize yourself succeeding and reward yourself with a little tangible nugget.
4- Drink Up
Cinnamon Latte with whip? Yes please. Ginger ale. Salty tomato juice. Fountain Diet Coke from McDonald’s. Hell yes. Iced tea with extra lemons? Jumbo size fancy glass bottle of overly priced water straight from a mountain stream? Don’t mind if I do. Just because you aren’t drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of anything else. In fact, I think it means the opposite. Spoil yourself with all the drinks. Have every single drink you want and have them all at once. Order as many drinks as you need to, in order to not have an alcoholic drink. Pro Tip: sit in the aisle seat so you can skip off to the bathroom whenever you want without interrupting anyone. Drink up my friends, just don’t drink alcohol.
5 - EFT Tapping
Emotional Freedom Technique tapping can give your busy hands and mind something to focus on. Research how to tap and it’s something you can do sitting right in the tiny airplane seat. EFT tapping points are the side of the hand, eyebrow, the side of and under the eye, under the nose, chin, collarbone, underarm and top of the head. Many of my client’s who have had anxiety about flying have used this technique to calm their nerves and even enjoyed the scenery. They landed at their destination feeling calm and accomplished.
By shifting your breath and changing your breathing patterns, you can signal to your body a calming response to stress. There’s a variety of techniques that you can use. Box breath (breath in for 4+ counts, hold for 4+ counts, exhale for 4+ counts, hold for 4+ counts. Repeat.) is one option. The simplest thing to remember is to breathe through your nose and let your exhale be longer than your inhale. Slow your breath. That is enough. This will give your mind a focus, and it will stimulate the body’s natural parasympathetic response. You can hold your hand on your belly. Fill with air and exhale. Ahhh, don’t you feel better already? By using these simple breathing techniques and paying attention to what is happening inside of you, you can calm yourself without the mask of alcohol.
Stay present. Be with yourself. You are learning to regulate your emotions. You are learning to cope without alcohol. You are trying something new by flying without alcohol. You can expect that you will be surrounded by triggers, but someday in your future you don’t see them. You only see how happy you are with your alcohol free tool kit, shopping experience, and staying with your own breath.
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