When I was just starting out on my sober journey I had this voice in my head, Let’s call that voice by name, the Wine Witch. She tried to sabotage me every step of the way.
When I would see some progress (maybe 4 days alcohol free) she would start screaming at me:
“What are you going to do?
Like really not drink?
Like not even drink when you get to Paris?
Then the real me would hear that Wine Witch. I would think about sitting at one of those black and white striped woven wicker bistro chairs outside a Parisian cafe, surrounded by women in black berets, leaving red lipstick marks on their long skinny cigarettes, little fluffy dogs on the ground next to their high heeled feet, sipping a strong afternoon red or a crisp bubbly champagne from the region. Women living the dream just being fabulous and sitting and sipping from sun up until sundown. Did I want to be part of that? Yes I did. Could I imagine sitting among them like some sad sober sap? No I could not. The Wine Witch was right.
What was I going to do?
Not drink in Paris?
It was this exact thought, on many, many occasions, that had me heading to my local liquor store, corner pharmacy, Trader Joe's, organic grocery store, or straight up gas station to grab an extra large magnum of wine and call the whole sober thing off.
Nevermind I had no plane tickets or real intentions of going to Paris in the foreseeable future.
The thought was enough to have me cave on my sober progress and return to my drinking cycle.
That is why at 5 years sober it feels like an extra win to have just returned from Paris alcohol free.
Not only did I not drink any alcohol, I also didn’t want any alcohol, and to take it a step further, I didn’t even see any alcohol.
I know that sounds crazy right?! Especially from a person who has been obsessed with finding a way to add alcohol to everything. I then turned into someone in early sobriety, who had hyper awareness of what everyone else was drinking. I was obsessed with drinking then obsessed with not drinking and here I am in Paris, synonymous with wine (my drink of choice), and I don’t even see it although, I assume it must be everywhere, or is it?
My happy alcohol free eyes literally didn’t see alcohol in Paris, even if it was right in front of me.
I saw a sunset on the Seine River Cruise. I saw the Eiffel Tower light up for 5 minutes in the middle of the night, knowing full well this is a one in a lifetime moment for me as I put my head on my husband’s shoulder and my daughter snaps a pic to capture it. I saw croissants and coffee every morning. I saw the freaking one and only Mona Lisa. I saw Versailles Gardens and myself in the Hall of Mirrors. I saw my family on the Metro, making memories to last a lifetime. I saw Notre Dame. I saw the escargot on a plate in front of me, in the back of a tiny crowded cafe. I saw artistic calligraphy of alcohol free menus everywhere posted outside the brasseries. I saw busy streets. I saw beautiful people. I saw flowers spilling out of boulangeries. I saw balconies on old buildings. I saw a romantic thunderstorm and took shelter under an adorable awning. I saw alleys and nooks and cobblestone streets. I saw the real Moulin Rouge and I did the highest kick in front of it. I saw fashion and style. Then I saw myself in brand new European dresses accessorized by my American sneakers and felt more like me than I ever have before. I saw Champs Elysees and Louis Vuitton. I saw Le Chat Noir, Arc de Triomphe and excusez Moi... I saw absolutely everything I ever wanted to see in Paris and I don’t see alcohol anywhere.
Everywhere I looked, everything I saw, was life giving affirmation, memory making moments, heart bursting gratitude, super hyper awareness of the present and me living in full color with my beautiful family and my solid, open self to receive it. I had absolutely no desire to dumb down or escape any part of it by pouring alcohol on this experience. Once I was there, it didn't even cross my mind.
Prior to arrival, I had some nervous anticipation. I didn't know how I would feel. Would I be triggered? Would this be hard for me? It felt like an overwhelming test and I didn't want to fail or even wobble. I looked up alcohol free bottle shops before arriving, just in case I wanted to stock my cute little Paris apartment with some alcohol free wine. After a long day of resisting the urge to drink, I might want a reward.
Turns out, I was resisting nothing. Why would I come home and sit on the couch drinking alone? Even drinking alcohol free? It’s just a habit and routine that I don’t do anymore. Instead I edited my pictures. I read my book. I listened to a podcast. I meditated. I relaxed without the need to sip anything to allow myself rest. Just like I now live my life to the fullest without needed to consume any sort of special elixir to do it. I am not the same person I was before I quit drinking. I have become brand new. I am not the person that goes to Paris to drink, like I was a few years ago.
It’s funny because when I talked to many people about Paris before I left, including a health care provider who is well aware that I am not only sober, but also a sober coach and advocate. Most people only talked the wine in Paris. They all spoke about all the drinking they did in Paris and how great it was. I now think to myself, wow it must have been amazing to have missed out or dulled down on all the stuff I saw. I can’t imagine adding alcohol to jet lag or fitting in drinking time with active teenage daughters in tow. Or losing my wits about me when I had to figure out the long walks home. Maybe they don’t drink the way I did, or maybe they do? I don’t know. But how embarrassing to think about being a drunk American in Paris. I am so glad it wasn’t me. How sad to have one liquid define your entire Parisian experience. I don’t care how tasty a cup of coffee or how sweet a milkshake or how dry a glass of wine is, it would not be the defining moment for an out of country travel experience for me anymore. The sunset on the Seine with the violin playing next to me was a defining moment, no alcohol necessary. The tower lit up and sparkling while hugging my husband in front of it would be an affair to remember. The lessons learned from a very engaging private tour of the Louvre will last forever.
Truth be told, the Parisian waitstaff never offered me an alcoholic drink. No one batted an eye when I ordered alcohol free. There was no stigma for not drinking anywhere I went. I didn’t see anyone drunk, I didn’t see anyone drinking. I saw lots of Perrier. A virgin spritz was made with the same craft, care, glass, and garnish as you would expect from an Aperol Spritz. Paris cared so much less about my not drinking than Wisconsin ever did. Just saying.
Can you imagine yourself not drinking alcohol in Paris? If you can’t, here’s what you need to do.
A few articles about alcohol free drinking in Paris. It's actually a thing.
Alcohol Free À ta santé 🥂