Thursday, 12 July 2018

What no one told you about sober holidays

A couple of days ago, I arrived on Paros, one of the Greek Cyclades Islands and one of my favourite places in the world.  It is also the primary source of my binge drinking.  I spent the summer of 1991 and 1992 working here as a 19 and 20 year old, numbing my insecurities and low self-esteem with cheap beer, wine, ouzo and dubious shots.  I have since returned here many more times over the years but those are the standout summers, as they were my first real taste of freedom, adventure and independence and are filled with laughter, lust, love and drama.  I look back on those booze soaked memories with great fondness (and the odd cringe).   However, they couldn't be more different from this time - my first experience of holidaying in Paros as a non-drinker.

You arrive feeling great

The journey to Paros is a bit of a ball ache, although it is a lot more straight forward these days than it was when I first came here.  You can't fly direct from England so you need to fly to Athens, Santorini or Mykonos and then get a ferry.  My previous trips here would often involve a drink or two at the airport, on the plane and on the ferry and arriving on the island looking and feeling pretty tired and ropey after a long journey.  However, this time round, having avoided the potential temptation of any booze, I arrived on the island feeling just fine despite a 16 hour journey.

You get up early effortlessly

Every other holiday I have spent on Paros has been all about the night.  As the sun set, I would come to life and my friends and I would pass the night crawling (sometimes quite literally) from one bar to the next, pursuing or being pursued by men, gossipping and resolving all the problems in the world!  The mornings were something we rarely encountered unless we had drunk our way through to sunrise or if we were unfortunate enough to have secured a job making breakfast (which I had one summer).  This time round though, I have seen the sun rise every morning and not because I haven't yet made it to bed.  I have discovered that early mornings really are the most beautiful time of the day and I love the tranquillity and anticipation of what lies ahead.
Getting up early with the cats and the fishermen

Your days are long and packed

When you are waking up at sun rise and not suffering from a vicious hangover, the days are long and asking to be filled rather than wasted.  So far, I have been up early hiking every day - much to the amusement of my friend who's hotel I'm staying in, who has known me for the past 27 years.  Seeing my girlfriend (and former fellow barfly) and I clad in gym kit at 8am and raring to go, reduced him to near hysteria accompanied by cries of "What's happened?  I cannot believe this!"
Early morning hike

Getting back from hiking we enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the village, where we invariably catch up with old friends who are passing by, followed by a walk to the beach for a spot of sunbathing, reading and swimming and we haven't even got to lunch time yet! 

In the past my day wouldn't start until lunch time which didn't leave much time for anything other than a carb-packed lunch to feed the hangover and a couple of hours snoozing on the beach before the night time revelry kicked into action again.

You can eat without guilt

As a drinker, I was aware that I was ingesting a significant number of extra calories on holiday - not just via the alcohol I was imbibing but also through the unhealthy food my body craved post-drinking.  This meant that I was constantly trapped in a cycle of drinking too much, eating unhealthily, feeling guilty and repeat.  I rarely went out for a meal and enjoyed the experience, as inside I was castigating myself for my excessive calorie consumption.

This time though things are different.  By eliminating alcohol from my life I have got rid of all the calories attached to the drinks and the carb-laden hangover food.  In addition, because I am no longer sloth-like in the mornings, I am able to get up and exercise and burn calories.  This means that I relish going out for meals now and enjoying the heavenly Greek food, guilt-free.

You recharge

During my first two summers working on Paros I drank every night without fail and after two to three months I'd returned to England feeling very low and completely knackered but unable to sleep.  Even on more recent holidays, I drank most nights, stayed out late and rarely returned home feeling well rested.  This holiday is going to be different.  Although I am happy to stay out late talking rubbish with my friends, because I'm not drinking alcohol, I'm sleeping really deeply. In addition, because I'm up and out and doing things early in the morning, I have plenty of time for an afternoon nap later in the day.  
Beach snoozing

In the past holidaying was all about over-indulging, letting loose and partying.  It never occurred to me that holidays could actually be far more enjoyable and action-packed without chucking vast quantities of alcohol down your throat.  No one told me that I would actually do more, spend better quality time with my friends and feel brighter, happier and more energised without a drink glued to my hand.  I'm so glad I have finally stumbled on this great discovery.

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