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Embracing Sobriety: Reflections on My First Year Completely Alcohol-Free

by John Buckley
June 30, 2024

Days Since an Accident

Introduction

About a year ago, as I crossed the bridge from someone who was struggling to stay sober to someone who was actually staying sober, I started this blog.

It’s not a sobriety blog; it’s a travel blog. I merely have a section devoted to an occasional post on alcohol-free life and travel.

I recently hit one full year completely alcohol-free, so I figured this qualified as an opportune time to write down some thoughts in reflection.

Actually, my first thought was to post on Facebook to announce the milestone, but one of the reasons I drank in the first place was to alleviate social anxiety.

Scratch that Facebook idea.

Here, I can delve deeper and just hope it finds someone who needs help or inspiration. That would be far more rewarding than a few likes or attaboys on the old Blue app.

Besides, this blog has been instrumental in helping me through this first sober year, and I find my daily attention to it cathartic.

I don’t credit it with getting me sober, but I do give it a great deal of credit for keeping me sober.

You see, when you’re not drinking every night and/or hungover every day, you end up with a lot of spare time on your hands that needs to be filled.

You also feel a need to put your mind, body, and soul to work on something productive, rather than destructive, for a change.

Some people become workout fanatics. I chose a different path and decided to spend my first sustained sober hours watching YouTube tutorials on how to build a website.

I listened to podcasts and watched further videos explaining concepts such as SEO (search engine optimization), keyword research, and email marketing. I’ve even learned how to design and sell hats and t-shirts on this site.

I’ve spent countless hours tinkering with things until I arrived at what you see before you today.

It’s neither perfect nor near completion. In fact, there seems to be no end in sight. That’s a good thing.

My profit margin is deep red, and yet, I consider this venture a total success.

When I hit my old drinking hours these days, my mind rarely drifts towards escaping and numbing.

Rather, it eagerly looks forward to what I have to do the next morning and happily goes to rest with a good TV show and a few too many cookies or ice cream bars (more on that later).

Without minimizing it’s power, the hold alcohol had on my life feels released. I have no desire to go back to it.

I know that it will always be lurking over my shoulder, but to be honest, I rarely even think about it anymore.

I don’t hold any grudges towards it. It gave me some of the best memories of my life. It just became unsustainable.

Celebrating the Denver Broncos winning the Super Bowl on Kuta Beach in Bali
Taking a shot of some Vietnamese “jungle whiskey” during a motorcycle tour of rural villages.

They say the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.

And that’s where I choose to place alcohol for as long as I can.

I just don’t need it anymore.

The Decision to Quit Drinking

I’m not writing today to shower you with all of the harrowing tales of what drove me to quit drinking. There were plenty of those, and they got pretty dark.

I’m in a much better place today without my toxic little friend, and I’m only interested in looking back on the last 365 sober days.

That, and perhaps also spending a little time optimistically looking towards the future.

Besides, I already wrote about all of the juicy details on what led me to quit drinking, and if you’d care to read that first, here it is: Recognizing Alcohol Abuse Warning Signs: My Journey to Sobriety.

That piece was really kind of a bummer to read, yet it ended with a glimmer of hope.

I hope this piece is the payoff on that glimmer of hope.

If you read the previous post about what drove me to quit drinking, you’ll know that I didn’t just wake up one day, quit drinking, and never turn back. It took several years of trial and error.

There were lots and lots of errors.

However, as I look back on my first completely alcohol-free year, I’d like to reflect on all of the positivity that it has brought to my life.

There are still a few lingering issues, which I’ll address, but by and large, only positive changes have come from finally removing alcohol from my life.

One Year Alcohol-Free: What’s Changed?

Of course, I will delve deeper as I go along, but the simple answer to this question is that almost every aspect of my life has improved.

Is life suddenly perfect? No. Am I suddenly a flawless individual? A more empathic, no!

However, what has emerged from being alcohol-free for over one year is a healthier, happier, and simply better version of myself.

Some of my old drinking buddies may beg to differ, but one of the greatest new gifts that sobriety (and perhaps old age) has given me is that I literally have zero fucks left to give.

"I'm sorry for cursing", a line from the movie Superbad.
Screenshot from ‘Superbad’ (2007), directed by Greg Mottola.

That socially awkward drunk from a few years past had plenty of them to give away, and they were exhausting. Good riddance to them all!

For years upon years, I allowed an alcohol-induced haze to cloud who I was and what I was becoming.

Coming out of that haze has felt like returning to the person I was before alcohol took over command and has allowed me to work on becoming the person I was meant to become.

That person may be far from perfect, but he has far fewer problems, personality issues, and character flaws than the person who clung to alcohol for dear life.

I know all of this may sound cliché and cheesy, and if that’s not your cup of tea, then kindly skip back a few sentences.

They are only going to increase as you read on, which, of course, I’m not forcing you to do.

Unnecessary Disclaimer?

Before I get into my thoughts and experiences on sobriety, I should emphasize that this has only been my experience.

What has been true for me may not be true for you. I only offer it as some inspiration for those who may be seeking the same goal or as information for those who are simply curious about what impact removing alcohol from your life may have.

I won’t get into offering advice on how to get sober or on how to remain sober because the things that have worked for me are likely not the things you’ll hear bandied about in recovery groups.

I found my own path, and it’s working for me.

If it ever stops working, I promise to remain open to every option on the table because I don’t intend to ever let alcohol win again.

And while I say I’m not here to give advice, I am open to people reaching out with questions or adding comments below.

Finally, I should also note that getting sober won’t fix everything in your life.

It will, however, stop giving the opposing team (whatever or whomever that may be) the ultimate advantage over you.

Physical Changes

I already explained that I didn’t become a workout fanatic when I put the bottle down, so I’ll spare you the topless selfies of myself flexing in the mirror.

Instead, I’ll just report that I recently had my annual health check, and for the first time in ages, I didn’t have to lie about how much alcohol I consumed.

I should mention that I live in South Korea, which may be useful information as we go along.

In Korea, you have to fill out a form with oddly specific questions about how many bottles of this or that you drink on a given day or in a week.

It used to require a PhD in math and a very loose grip on reality to settle on an amount that wouldn’t raise too many red flags.

This year, I just happily wrote zeros next to every alcohol option and the number of servings, and I did so with a clear conscience.

It was unexpectedly extremely satisfying.

Weight Loss

Later, after completing the series of tests that are required in Korea, I had to sit down with a doctor to go over a few of the basics.

The final results will come later in the mail once the bloodwork and urine analysis are complete.

Everything seemed to check out, but he was genuinely perplexed as to why my weight had dropped from 86 kilograms down to 70 kilograms over the past several yearly visits.

For my American friends, that’s a drop from about 190 pounds to under 155 pounds.

When I told him that I had recently quit drinking, he just nodded in approval and scratched hyperthyroidism off his list of concerns.

I didn’t mean to put this as a primary benefit on my list, and I don’t want to offer false hope to others who may have a different experience.

To be honest, my weight has never really been too much of an issue, even when I was drinking heavily.

The real concern at the height of my drinking was what it was doing to my stomach lining and the bloating that resulted. While I was technically still kind of skinny, my stomach had started protruding out from below my chest down to my waist.

When I would sit down, I would always have to loosen my belt to make room for the bloated expansion.

I know I told you I would spare you the topless selfies, but this is one of the pictures I have saved in my phone’s sober tracking app under the “Why I’m Doing This” tab.

Bloating from heavy drinking was a real concern

It may not look like much to you, but to me, that abrupt protrusion from just below my chest was a big cause for concern on my growing list of health problems.

Appearance

Look, when you hit your mid-to-late 40’s, your looks don’t generally start improving. I get that. Quitting drinking didn’t suddenly turn me into Glen Powell.

I’m still balding, and the hair I do have is turning grayer by the day. Crow’s feet still dance around my eyes. It’s called aging; look it up!

That said, if I gave you the Pepsi Challenge on the next two photos, I think it’s pretty clear which one is from my drinking days and which one is from this year.

Dinner in Korea when I was drinking heavily and often.
Picture from 2000
A picture taken with one full year of sobriety
Picture from 2024

Although I’ll concede that I haven’t gotten any more handsome, if you consider that I’m four years younger in the first picture, I think it’s clear to see that quitting drinking certainly hasn’t hurt!

When I see before and after photos from other people, the noticeable difference is always in the face and eyes. There is almost always a puffiness and tiredness in the face of a person who drinks too much.

Likewise, the eyes of a person who has been free of alcohol for some time always shine a bit more brightly. You generally can’t read life’s struggles in them, the same way you can with a person who drinks heavily.

Sleep

For a very long time, I told myself that I needed at least a few beers to fall asleep, and to be honest, I kind of did need them. I had self-diagnosed myself as an insomniac.

On the rare nights that I would try to go to sleep without a few drinks (usually after a pretty rough bender), I would, in fact, toss and turn throughout the night.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that those drinks were really just helping me pass out and that my sleep still pretty much sucked throughout the night.

It wasn’t until I put some real distance between myself and alcohol that I realized I could just become extremely tired by about 9:00 pm, doze off watching TV, and stay that way all night.

When I was drinking, I almost always stayed up past midnight (drinking, of course).

I would then stumble my way to bed and, in fact, pass out rather quickly. However, my night from there was a bumpy ride of waking up to pee numerous times, fighting urges to drink more, tossing and turning, and then finally waking up feeling like hell.

In my mind, I was successful because I thought, without those drinks, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep in the first place.

Oh, how wrong I was!

During the past year of sobriety, I learned that my body not only doesn’t need those beers to fall asleep, but that I’m actually an incredibly good sleeper!

These days, I fall asleep between 9 and 10 p.m. and just let the good sleeping times roll until about 6 or 7 a.m., when I wake up without an alarm.

Sure, that’s earlier than I need to wake up on most days, but my body has gotten enough from the 8–9 hours and is happy to wake up on it’s own.

It’s freaking fantastic!

If any of you also believe yourself to be insomniacs, take away alcohol for awhile and see what happens. You might just be surprised to learn that you’re not naturally one.

I was certainly surprised to learn that. The only caveat is that you may need to give your body and mind a month or two to settle into the new routine.

Of course, I know there are people with actual sleep issues who may not have the same experience, but there is strong evidence to support that alcohol does more harm than good when it comes to your sleep.

Overall Health

If you read my first article explaining the reasons I decided it was time to quit drinking, at the top of that list were health concerns.

After roughly 20 years of diligently doing its job under harsh working conditions, my liver was starting to hit the picket lines. I hadn’t hit full-on cirrhosis, but I was getting close.

My liver enzymes were off the charts, and I was living with a dull, ever-present lumpy pain in my side.

The writing was on the wall; the party was going to come to an end one way or another. The only choices I had were when, how, and on who’s terms.

Everyday isn’t easy, but if I ever consider having a drink, I only have to turn my mind back to those days of drinking just to dull the pain in my side and remind myself that it wouldn’t take long to get back to that place.

Before I close out this section, I just want to return to my annual health check.

What a relief it was to 1). not have to lie to protect the illusion of normality, and 2). not be filled with crushing anxiety about what they might discover.

I have all of the aches and pains of a typical person heading towards 50, but for someone who has been plagued with self-inflicted health anxiety for years, I now get to just sit back and let the chips fall where they may, naturally.

Quitting drinking may not be the Holy Grail or the Fountain of Youth, but it certainly takes the roller skates off your feet for the inevitable march to the grave.

Friends & Relations

This is kind of a tricky section to write because, over the past several years, a lot has changed in regards to my relationships.

Some of the changes are due to getting older, getting married, and evolving.

Other changes are due to the fact that most of my close friends have left Korea.

And yes, some of the changes are directly related to my having quit drinking.

First, let me establish one thing. I had an amazing run from about 2008 to 2018, living in Korea, traveling the world, and drinking far too much. I made some great friends, and we had a blast.

I really don’t regret a thing, even though there were surely some regrettable moments.

Friendships

The truth is, I don’t really have any of those close friendships anymore. Sure, they’re all still my ‘friends’, but most have moved on from Korea, and we keep in touch occasionally via chat groups.

I still have acquaintances here, but nobody calls on Friday nights (or ever) to see what I’m up to. Those friends who are still around know my answer without having to call.

No, I’m not coming out‘.

I think it’s fair to say that I don’t have much of a social life anymore.

If that sounds depressing, keep reading.

10 years ago, I might have considered the guy I am today ‘a loser’. A guy who never goes out and only spends time with his wife and dog. How boring!

That may be true, but that guy from 10 years ago was also a chaotic, sloppy mess, filled with shameful moments. But definitely not boring!

These days, I simply consider boredom to be peace.

I don’t have to wake up wondering what I did the night before. I don’t have to worry about apologies that might need to be issued. I don’t have to check my bank account to see how much money I spent the night before.

And it’s been an extremely long time since I’ve had to try to cover the tracks of a wet bed!

These days, I just get to wake up and go about my day in peace. As mentioned earlier, I rarely even need to set an alarm because I’m generally asleep before 10 p.m.

That may sound boring, but as time goes on, I assure you, it gets more and more appealing.

Relationships

Just like all of the aforementioned friends, the woman who would later become my wife got to know me as a heavy drinker.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we had some great times drinking together, just like I had with my other friends.

However, she was also around for some tough times too, especially towards the end when I was lying, hiding alcohol, and desperately trying to secretly keep it in my life.

In the process of trying to hold onto alcohol, I unexpectedly became angry, short-tempered, and prone to erratic mood swings.

I was never physically abusive, but don’t underestimate the power the ‘F’ word has on a non-native English speaker’s reading of a room.

I simply knew I could wield that word with power every time my alcohol-starved mind wanted to throw a tantrum.

But here’s the good news: with enough time away from alcohol, my mood swings eventually leveled out, and I’d like to think that I’m just a much kinder, more gentle person to be around these days.

She stuck with me through more than I deserved, but she weathered the storm, and I’d like to think she is getting a much better version of me today.

I still like to throw that word around occasionally, but never directed at her or with the menacing intentions with which I once used it.

Family fun at the base of Muju Deogyusan Resort
Family Time on the Slopes in Korea

Unexpected Changes

When people quit drinking, there are some common things that they can usually come to expect that will generally improve their lives.

I already talked about weight loss, health improvements, and being a far better hang for loved ones. There were also, however, a few unexpected changes that have been quite a pleasant surprise.

If you grew agitated by the clichés earlier, well buckle up, and fair warning on what’s to come in this section.

Gratitude

If you’ve ever listened to sobriety podcasts or attended a recovery meeting, you’ve probably heard the concept of ‘practicing gratitude’.

It’s a pretty simple concept: be thankful for what you have and the experiences you are being given, yes, even the difficult ones.

It sounds strange, but perhaps it does take some practice. I know that when I was drinking heavily, I was just trying to make it through the day, and my mind was mostly fixated on the next dopamine fix.

I rarely slowed down and thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty great.’ And some of those drinking moments were actually pretty great.

There is one undeniable truth for all humans in existence, and that is that your time is going to run out.

It’s a strange thing; when I quit drinking, I got a bit more philosophical. I think about things I didn’t used to think about much. I stop more and admire views that I previously ignored.

I also simply don’t take my time for granted anymore, or at least I try not to.

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily practice gratitude, but I would say that I find myself pausing a lot more often and thinking to myself, ‘You know, I sure am happy to be here experiencing this right now. I’m just so thankful for this moment.’

This might sound morbid, but I know there is going to come a time when my health won’t allow me to get out and do the things I enjoy doing anymore.

I know that disease or the grim reaper could come calling at pretty much any moment, and that they rarely announce themselves in advance.

I don’t really know why I think about these things now more often than I used to. Maybe it’s just a facet of getting older, or a clearer mind in sobriety, or perhaps a combination of the two.

Regardless, when I’m playing tug with my dog, standing in a mountain stream watching her play, or driving in the car with my wife on one of our big adventures, I find myself slowing down and thinking:

Enjoy this; this won’t last forever. Thank God I get to experience it right now—in this moment, happy and healthy.

I didn’t expect this to come from sobriety, but I sure am thankful that it did!

Being Present

This is one of those buzz phrases that you often hear tossed about in our modern world.

The fact is, sometimes it is really difficult to put your phone aside and just absorb a moment. Even in sobriety, this takes some thought and perhaps even practice.

When I got really miserable towards the end of my drinking, I was really focused on leaving Korea, moving back to Colorado, and starting my life over again in my mid-40s.

You may have surmised, if you’ve been reading along, that I’m still in Korea. Some days I still long to move home, and I’m sure some day we may pack up the family and do it.

What’s changed is that I’m no longer in a hurry because I’ve come to appreciate the life I have here. It’s not perfect, but I’m perfectly happy with it.

Just like gratitude, I’m not sure if I owe this shift in mindset all to sobriety, but I find myself slowing down a lot more and just allowing myself to take in the moments.

I still find room to fit in a little anxiety about the future, but I’m certainly better about not ignoring the gifts I have in the present.

A cartoon I came across on Twitter during the writing of this piece
A cartoon I came across on Twitter, by coincidence, during the writing of this piece

Challenges

Sugar! Coffee! Sugar! Coffee!

There was a time not long ago, when I would proudly proclaim that I didn’t have any semblance of a sweet tooth.

I had a job in PR prior to moving to South Korea, where it was part of my job to take journalists out to fancy restaurants in my hometown of Vail, Colorado.

Often, at the end of the meal, because the restaurants were putting their best foot forward, elaborate desserts would be presented to cap off the evening.

In an act of youthful defiance, I would generally forgo even a taste of the immaculate creations in front of me and order another beer.

One of my favorite moves was to order a PBR, or Coors Light, as my dessert at the 5-star restaurant, just to prove to no one in particular that I was a man of the people.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my body was still craving that sugar; it just preferred it as a liquid and with a healthy dose of alcohol.

Fast forward to when I finally removed alcohol from the equation, and boy-oh-boy, has my body made peace with sugar in its solid state.

Long gone is that cocky kid who claimed to ‘have never had a sweet tooth’.

Sugar Hangovers Are a Real Thing

One of the oddest queries you might find in my Google search history is: “Can you feel hungover from eating too much sugar?”

If you’re curious, the answer is yes. Yes, you can.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t have any scientific data in front of me, but I do have more than one data point proving that shoving too many Costco cookies in your face just before bedtime can result the next day in: a splitting headache, nausea, upset stomach, and general malaise.

Sound familiar?

It’s true, I’ve given myself numerous sugar hangovers. I’m not proud of them, but I’m here to tell you that they are much shorter lived than any alcohol hangover and come with just a fraction of the consequences.

For a long time, I kind of allowed myself the freedom to shove unlimited cookies and ice cream down my face at night because, ‘hey, at least, it’s not booze.

I still stick to that belief and will continue to give myself some leeway in this department.

However, now that I have cleared the one year sobriety hurdle, I know it is time to start reeling it in.

I know this because I see the same addictive tendencies that were present with my drinking.

Just like with my drinking, I can go all day without touching sugar (minus some fruit in a morning smoothie).

However, just like with my drinking, by night I find it nearly impossible to ‘just have one’. After that first cookie or ice cream bar hits my lips, it triggers an impulse to keep adding fuel to the fire.

Luckily, unlike with beer where I would just keep going until I passed out, my stomach usually tells me: okay dude, you need to stop now.

I’ll admit, it’s a concern and something I plan to address in Sober Year 2.

Fewer Apologies for Coffee

Unlike with sugar, where I have a clear intention to put some limits and guardrails in place, I make fewer apologies for my coffee intake.

I do acknowledge, however, that I display that familiar ‘one is never enough’ tendency that has come to define my relationships with both sugar and alcohol.

Let’s be honest, that first cup of coffee in the morning just hits differently. My move is to pour the first cup when only about 1/4th of the pot has been brewed. This ensures that the first cup is extra flavorful and full-strength.

As much as I love that first cup of coffee, that ‘one is never enough’ trait always leads me to finish the entire pot on my own and to consider brewing a second pot.

Okay, now that I think about it, maybe I do have a bit of an issue with coffee too.

However, I’ve learned that brewing that second pot in the morning is kind of my red line. It always sounds appealing, but after half a cup from the second pot, my stomach usually urges me to pour the rest out. And I willingly comply.

My point is that with coffee and even sugar to some degree, while I may be using them as unhealthy coping mechanisms, my body ends up telling me when enough is enough.

I have some semblance of control.

The difference with alcohol was that when my body was giving me the same message, my mind simply would not or could not pay attention.

I did not have any control or the ability to stop when enough was enough.

So moving forward I will continue to monitor and make adjustments to what I consider the much lesser of two evils.

Sobering Wrong

I need to choose my words carefully here.

As is the case with most groups of people, there are some strong opinions in the sobriety community on the right and wrong ways to get and stay sober.

I’m not going to give you my opinion, or even mention what I’m doing on a daily basis to stay sober.

All I’ll tell you is that in some circles my method might be considered wrong and doomed to relapse.

Perhaps it is, but I will just let you know that I am doing the best that I can in a difficult situation. It’s not easy to get sober in a foreign country.

I’m proud of what I’ve overcome, largely on my own. I’ll be honest, I don’t have a huge support system over here.

I don’t feel like I’m white-knuckling and I hate the term dry-drunk. It implies laziness or a lack of effort.

I feel like I’m in a very good place right now, and I’m working hard to keep going and to improve every single day.

Rather than give advice, I will just tell you that I really appreciate the podcast Sobriety Uncensored with Daniel and Jenna.

Like me, they enjoy a few 4-letter words now again, and they’re big proponents of finding your own path towards sobriety.

They’re incredibly smart, articulate, relatable and funny; and just like me (and perhaps you too) they’ve been through ‘the shit’ and speak from a place of experience and compassion.

When I’m feeling in need of guidance, I like to take a walk and listen to what they have to say.

Am I sobering wrong? Maybe.

Am I staying sober? Definitely.

Am I open to alternatives if what I’m doing stops working?

Of course I am.

What’s Next? Life Beyond Year One of Sobriety

Hitting one full year completely free of alcohol is a pleasant milestone and I’m truly proud of the accomplishment.

It is by no means, however, the end of the journey. There are certainly challenges ahead.

I opened this narrative with a photo of me drinking some local whiskey in a small Vietnamese village on a motorcycle trip from several years ago.

Well, the wife and I are headed back to Vietnam next week for a two-week vacation!

While I feel steady and confident in my sobriety, there is no doubt that Southeast Asia offers drinking temptations around every corner.

As an enormous fan of the late, great Anthony Bourdain, there’s nothing more romanticized in my mind than sitting down on a small plastic chair on the streets of Hanoi sharing a few Bia Hơi’s over a bowl of steaming noodles.

A crowded scene on Hanoi's famous Beer Street.

Ta Hien Street, aka. Beer Street, in Hanoi, Vietnam

I feel confident, but there is no doubt that this trip will be a test of my sobriety mettle.

I have maintained happy sobriety on trips around South Korea and back home to Colorado, but Southeast Asia holds a lot of great drunken memories for me, and I don’t take on this endeavor lightly.

That said, in refusing to let alcohol win over other aspects of my life, I also refuse to let it’s absence completely change who I am and what is important to me.

Travel has always been a huge part of my life, and it is a passion I intend to pursue with the same vigor moving forward.

I’m just going to have to learn to enjoy it with a clearer mind and my two new best friends: coffee and chocolate.

I know that beyond travel there surely will be more challenges and bumps along the road in the years to come.

While I rarely feel tempted these days, I am keenly aware that one slip-up could be devastating and send me back into the death spiral that I fought so hard to be freed from over the course of the past several years.

I’m proud of this milestone and accomplishment, but I will never take for granted what it took to get here!

For the longest time, I couldn’t get the incessant voice in my head telling me to “give it just one more go” to quiet down.

That voice has been silenced for awhile now.

It pops up now and again, trying to convince me that I could probably have a few beers on the beach in Vietnam.

I know it’s right too; I probably could control myself for a few beers on the beach.

However, I went through the ringer too many times and now know that the first “hall pass” always leads to a second one, and that I’d soon be back to where I started.

Everything in life is just so much better where I am now that when that voice occasionally creeps in, I’m now able to just brush it aside or even laugh it off.

I now encounter that voice with pity, rather than envy.

I don’t want to say that it is easy now, but I can confidently say that everything is easier. All of it.

Time heals all wounds.

Sober Milestones

To end this narrative, I figured I would just let some pictures speak to a few of the many milestones that occurred over the course of my first full year of uninterrupted sobriety.

Not all of these were “firsts,” as it took me about three years of trying before it finally stuck (hopefully for good).

Last Drink: 6/28/2023

Catching Covid precipitated my final drink

Catching Covid precipitated my final drink. While still recovering, I moved into a new house with my new wife, leaving my old drinking deck behind. Being sick put my last “mini-bender” to rest.

First Summer Vacation Sober

Enjoying my first completely sober summer vacation as a teacher

As an English teacher in South Korea, I get 4 months of paid vacation time (2 summer and 2 winter). It is an amazing perk, but all that free time is not the easiest way to stay sober.

A Multi-Night Trip to Jeju Island, South Korea

Jeju Island, Summer 2023

A summer trip to Jeju Island, South Korea
We packed up the car with our dog and travelled by ferry to Jeju Island

You can read all about this trip here.

Chuseok Holiday

Celebrating Korean Thanksgiving at my new in-laws house. The holiday is typically filled with a lot of shared beer and Korean rice wine (soju).

Celebrating Chuseok with a traditional Korean meal (not pictured)
At the burial grounds of my new Korean in-laws at Chuseok

At the family burial grounds of my new in-laws. The deceased received lit cigarettes and cups of soju. Hey, why not?

Multi-night Fall Road Trip

Outside an AirBnB in Jeolla Province, South Korea
Outside an AirBnB in Jeolla Province, South Korea
A stop-off on our fall road trip in Korea. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
A stop-off on our fall road trip in Korea. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Christmas in Korea

Celebrating Christmas and my mother-in-law's birthday in Korea. If there was ever a time drink, but I stayed sober!
Celebrating Christmas and my mother-in-law’s birthday in Korea. If there was ever a time to drink, however, I stayed sober!

Our Beloved Dog’s Surgery

Woozy Winnie comes out of surgery
A woozy Winnie comes out of surgery
It was a rough week for poor Winnie.
It was a rough week for poor Winnie.

Several Winter Ski Trips in Korea

My old K2 Pontoon powder skis came to live with me in South Korea
We got set up with some great gear at Top Ski, about 3km from the base of Muju Deogyusan Resort
Owning a car in South Korea made ski trips a lot easier

After experiencing a waning passion for the sport and taking several years off from skiing, sobriety rekindled the fire. Even though South Korea doesn’t quite measure up to Colorado, I’ve genuinely enjoyed hitting the slopes again.

A Trip Home to USA

Pre-Nuggets game with my brother and a college friend.
I used the Sukoa Padded Ski Bag to transport my K2 Pontoons from Colorado to South Kore
My first Denver Nuggets game was also my first sober Nuggets game.

This trip included visiting family, catching up with college and high school friends, some Colorado skiing, and attending a Denver Nuggets game. All of these activities would have included plenty of drinking in the past.

My Birthday

Celebrating my birthday with family in South Korea.
Celebrating my birthday in Korean-style

Another Road Trip + Camping

Trekking at High 1 Resort, South Korea
Riding the Gondola at High 1 Resort, South Korea
Camping in Gangwon Province, South Korea

Rounding out my sober year, drinking alcohol isn’t even a consideration anymore. Yes, even while camping, which would have seemed inconceivable not too long ago!

At the base of our camping location in Gangwon Province, South Korea
See you next year!

Thank you for reading!

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Border Collie Life in South Korea

John Buckley

Welcome to Colorado Saram!

I grew up in the famous ski resort town of Vail, but now live in Daegu, South Korea, with my wife Lucy and dog, Winnie.

I continue to live and value the Colorado lifestyle, but do so while following my passion for international travel in Asia and beyond.

I write about international skiing, hiking, outdoor adventure, dog-friendly travel, travel gear, and more.

I hope you'll find this content helpful and entertaining.

Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, or click subscribe to get periodic updates as a Colorado Saram!