When relapse triggers are vacation land mines
Vacations offer a longer chance to unwind and a change of scene that can be difficult to capture the rest of the year, but they may also become relapse land mines to those in recovery. Vacations are not exactly stress-free anyway, especially when dealing with new locations, luggage and airlines, or coordinating plans with a group.
Here are a few scenarios: You’ve planned the vacation and are looking forward to a little R&R. Maybe it is time with the family, perhaps a family reunion. Reunion family members may bring with them cases of beer and a penchant for daylong happy hours. Perhaps some of the family members are difficult to get along with, or have issues with each other. Your vacation may entail meeting up with old friends, or planning a cruise, or a trip to a known “fun spot” or resort. Vacation settings usually offer plenty of opportunities to drink, and some locations may rekindle barhopping memories. Remember the drinking pal(s) from high school? They may be eager to pick up where everyone left off at the class reunion.
Should you avoid the above vacation situations? It depends. A person’s choice not to drink alcohol is generally respected, and you can always accept a nonalcoholic drink at a gathering. If a family reunion includes a heavy emphasis on booze, don’t feel pressured to attend. You can start your own traditions with people of your choice. Catching up with old drinking buddies poses very real triggers, so if you attend a class reunion, don’t consider going off to the familiar drinking holes.
Cruise ships have many bar options, but most large ships also offer recovery support meetings daily, and lots of activities and shore trips. There are also sober cruises available for those who prefer an entirely sober environment. It is always a good idea to travel with supportive people, if not those in recovery themselves, whether it’s a cruise, a road trip, a week in Mexico or camping in a national park.
Sometimes the best vacations are those that tap directly into your passions. Do you like to paint landscapes? How about a watercolor workshop in a beautiful location? There are numerous specific-interest vacations from high adventure to volunteerism.
When planning a sober and safe vacation, understand the environment and locations you’ll be in, what activities are available, who will be there and how you plan to actively work your recovery program. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Understand what your stressors are, too. Try not to take on the responsibility for everyone’s good time.
Identify triggers that lead to relapse
Since alcoholism is a chronic disease, taking one little drink or two on vacation is never a viable option. What stresses will you likely encounter and what are your healthy coping strategies? Plan ways to de-stress and get away from the crowd if you need to. Bring music you like and books you are likely to enjoy. Some people quell anxiety with hand held electronic games or brain game books. If the sight of a Margaritaville bar stirs up yearnings, remember what the spiral downward from fun was like, and keep a handle on that reality.
More vacation survival tips:
- Plan activities as well as down time for yourself.
- Find out what exercise facilities or walking/biking paths, golf, tennis or other sports opportunities are nearby.
- Get rest: emotions tend to run high when people are exhausted, so plan on getting adequate rest and sleep.
- Find out where recovery support meeting locations are and plan to attend.
- Maintain healthy eating habits during the vacation, even if your routine is totally different.
- Keep vacation expectations realistic.
- Develop a vacation budget you can live with and stick with it.
- If you are used to practicing daily meditations, plan to fit that in.
- Enjoy the moment.
Realistic expectations of a vacation may include spending quality time with people you want to be with, relaxing and recharging, and experiencing enjoyable activities, from exhilarating adventure to gardening or visiting an aquarium. In our society, overstressed and sometimes overworked people often expect that a week on the beach will make up for a year of pressure. Learning how to live in the moment as a way of life, and to nurture hobbies, interests and relationships all year is spirit enhancing, too.