By Shaena Jasmat
I’ve already had a few holidays now since I gave alcohol the heave ho, but in November last year I embarked on a different kind of trip that was really going to test my sobriety and I wanted to share that experience with you.
My family is dotted all over the globe. My older sister and her family are on the Gold Coast in Australia. My baby sister (38 but will forever be referred to as the baby) lives in Hamilton, New Zealand with her partner. And my parents split their time between the UK and India.
Last year I lost my best friend and beautiful fur baby, Louis. It was sudden and heartbreaking. But being someone who looks for the good in everything now, I realized that now I had an opportunity. An opportunity to go spend time with my family, who at that point as a result of the pandemic I’d not seen for 3 years.
So that’s what I did. I sold my car and booked my flights and planned a 7 month trip. A month in India with my parents, 3 weeks in Australia with my big sis and the rest of the time with my baby sister in New Zealand.
I was so excited. But one thing played on my mind. Family time in the past had also meant drinking time. We are not a bunch of piss heads (well, they’re not) by any means. But when we get together we do enjoy a drink.
At this point I was quite comfortable in my sobriety but I did wonder what it would be like. Would I feel like I was missing out? Would it feel weird? Would there be any decent AF options? Would I be able to stay sober?
Arriving at London Heathrow airport, alcohol was pretty far from my mind. I was just desperate to get to India after what had been a really tough time for me and my Mum went to grab dinner before we boarded the flight. We decided on Wagamamas and I was really looking forward to relaxing, eating and starting our holiday. We also had some vouchers so I ordered enough food for about 5 people but that’s when things took a turn…
First our drinks arrived and I was excited to try an AF beer I’d not tried before. But sadly I didn’t really get to try it as after placing down our drinks, the waiter accidentally knocked the other drinks on the tray he was carrying. One of which happened to be a full pint of beer which proceeded to spill onto the table, then onto me and then onto my hand luggage bag which I had placed on the floor at the end of the table.
My journey had barely begun and booze had already reared its ugly head. I somehow managed to maintain composure whilst the waiter apologized every 5 minutes for the next 30 minutes - bless him - and I tried my best to clean myself up even though I had no fresh clothes to change into. Safe to say, my beef teriyaki soba wasn’t as enjoyable as I had hoped.
After we left the restaurant we had another hour to kill before we needed to be at the gate. So, of course I just spent the entire time sniffing myself, my bag and my clothes to see if I smelt like a stale brewery. My Mum said I didn’t…I didn’t believe her!
As a result of this unexpected drama, I won’t lie, I did think about marching up to the first bar I could find and ordering myself a very stiff drink. But I knew that would do nothing except make the situation worse and definitely make me stink of booze.
So I decided not to and off we went to India.
India was where my sober journey began in February 2020. I went there after I was (yet again) plummeting head first into a downward spiral. It was not the first time I had gone there to heal, and it would not be the last…
India has always been my second home, but in the last 15 years it has also become some what of a sanctuary for me. Our home there is in a small rural village. We get power cuts on the regular, the internet drops out every half an hour, up until last year we didn’t have a TV and you don’t need an alarm clock because every morning you will be woken by either the chickens, peacocks or cows! And the best part, we live in a dry state. Which basically means that you cannot legally purchase alcohol where we live.
Now as non Indian residents there is a way around this as you can get government approved permits and purchase out of state and bring it in. But what this means in general is that alcohol is not in your face here. You don’t see it in the shops, eateries or plastered all over the billboards. There is a drinking culture, but it’s very much behind closed doors, on the down low or illegal!
Just to clarify, India is not a dry country. The state in which we reside when we are here - Gujarat - is one of the few dry states that still exist. I asked my Mum which it’s still a thing and the answer was pretty obvious now I think about it. Money! Corruption in India is rife and the more red tape there is for people to get through, the more money government officials can pocket.
So anyway, for me India is now a place where I get to relax completely and do all the things that are good for my mind, body and soul. Alcohol just doesn’t come into the equation for me here and I love that.
After 5 weeks I was soon back on the next airplane heading towards the southern hemisphere. I had only been to New Zealand to visit my sister once before and this was back when I was still a drinker. It was a brief visit, but involved visits to wineries, day drinking and of course tequila shots! So this time things would be very different, only I didn't know how.
My main concern was would my sister and her partner feel weird about drinking around me. And if they didn't, would I eventually feel weird not being able to drink with them. I'm really pleased to say that it was a complete non issue. They'd even gone out and bought a variety of AF drinks for me to try. I was so impressed with the options for non drinkers in New Zealand, they really did have something for all tastes. What I loved the most was, unlike in some UK supermarkets, you didn't have to go hunting for the alcohol free drinks section. And it was more than just a single section.
Two weeks after I arrived in New Zealand I enjoyed my first overseas Christmas in 10 years and my first sober overseas Christmas EVER!
A few days after Christmas I flew out to Australia to visit my other sister, her partner and my 2 nephews on the Gold Coast. I'm not sure why, but I was a little bit more concerned about this trip. Perhaps it had something to do with my last visit in 2019, when we were last all together as a family. We were all on holiday so we would have drinking daily as was the norm back then.
And I suppose I didn't know how things would be this time around with me not drinking.
Thankfully, again it was a non issue. I didn't miss it or feel like I was missing out. On the few occasions we went out for dinner or drinks there were always great AF choices on the menu...in fact I got to have AF versions of my favourite cocktails - the margarita and the espresso martini!
I was slightly disappointed with the selection of AF drinks in the shops however. For those who have never visited Australia, alcohol is sold in designated 'bottle shops', not in supermarkets.
This isn't really an issue as most supermarkets literally have a bottle shop next door. So, with a whole separate shop for alcohol I was hoping for a better choice of AF options. Don't get me wrong, there were quite a few beers and wines to choose from but not as much I had hoped. Perhaps I was just spoiled for choice in New Zealand?!
A funny moment towards the end of my Australia was us winning prizes for coming 8th in a trivia night at the pizza place my nephew worked at. Yes, you read that right…prizes for coming 8th. Most would be a bit embarrassed by this but we cheered the loudest of all teams - even the team that won - when this was announced. However the prize was a bunch of baseball caps and my nephews were really worried when I proceeded to take a selfie with mine on and post it to my insta stories. Coopers is a beer brand and my nephews thought I would be shunned by the sober community for sharing the photo, but I was just so chuffed we won something!
New Zealand - Again!
After 3 weeks I was making my way back to Hamilton, New Zealand and I honestly felt like I'd completed my challenge. I had spent time with all my family, visited 3 different countries in the process and everything had gone really well. In fact, it had gone better than well. I had so much fun hanging out with everyone, I was doing things I would never have imagined I'd be doing like going paddle boarding, visiting water parks, bouldering, running around the city doing a virtual challenge and spending so much
time laughing so hard my belly hurt. Everything was just working out better than I could have imagined...almost a little too well?!
When I arrived back in New Zealand, the next step was to turn off holiday mode and get back into business mode. Although I had been working on and off whilst traveling, it was now time for me to put my head down and really get stuck in and get my business to a place where this life I had created was sustainable.
Looking back now, maybe I pushed myself too hard too fast. Perhaps things were going so well that it almost felt a little bit scary. Or maybe it had something to do with unprocessed grief and other things I was dealing (or not dealing with) with on an emotional level. I don’t have an answer as it’s literally only been a week as I write this, but something in me made me hit self destruct and I picked up a drink.
India - Again!
When I offered to write this piece for the magazine I never in a million years thought this would be how I would be ending it. A few days ago I changed my mind and decided not to submit anything. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. And then I realized that this is what people need to hear. There are hundreds of sober success stories out there and I still see myself as one of them. Only, I also know how important it is to share the challenges we face, the falls we take and the bumps we overcome on this journey. They don’t take away from how far we have come and if anything, only make us stronger and more resilient as we move forward.
I am now back in India, because I felt this is where I needed to be in order to process what led up to my slip. Being somewhere I feel safe, supported and grounded while I work through things has become something I recognise to be an important factor, especially when I need to heal. And as if by magic, this Saturday is the first class of the 200 hours YTT which I am so grateful to be part of as I know it will be just one more thing that will help me progress on my journey.