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.”

Diana drinking in Prague

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

Remember Zima?

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

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

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.

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?

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.

This post previously appeared on d travels ’round.

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