Summer vacations are meant to be a time for relaxation and rejuvenation. For those in recovery, though, vacation can be stressful and present potentially dangerous situations as they are confronted with temptations or triggers that could make them vulnerable to a potential relapse. We reached out to Caron’s clinical experts and alumni for their insights on how to manage recovery during vacation. What resulted are these practical tips for healthy vacationing.
1. Plan ahead.
- Start with short vacations: One alum shared that the first trips he took while in recovery were short, weekend getaways. Once he felt comfortable safely managing his recovery while away from home, he began to go away for longer periods of time.
- Look for healthy settings: It’s not always possible to choose your vacation spot if you’re attending a large gathering. However, when you can choose your destination, select a spot with an emphasis on wellness. For example, many hotels offer spa services that focus on healthy approaches to relaxation. Today’s apps also make it easy to rent a vacation home, which may be a safer option to support your recovery than an all-inclusive resort.
- Seek local support: Before you go, know what meetings are available and when. One alum said she developed a second home group in the area where her daughter’s family lives. Another alum said it was comforting to attend meetings on cruises or in other travel destinations where peers in recovery could relate and support each other. In many cases, you can call in advance to let the 12-step group know you’re planning to attend and have a point person to ease your participation.
- Remove obstacles in advance: One alum calls hotels and requests they remove the mini bar. You can also ask a concierge to recommend fun activities that don’t revolve around alcohol.
- List your coping strategies: In advance of your trip, make a list of healthy coping skills and strategies you can access when needed, and always keep it with you. It can be difficult to think of strategies in a stressful moment – so having one with you gives you several options in a pinch.
2. Care for yourself while traveling
- Make sure you don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired: These feelings are all considered relapse triggers. To ward off unhealthy behavior, make sure you prioritize sleep, keep healthy snacks with you and pay attention to your mood. If you feel irritable, for example, you may need to excuse yourself from a gathering to rest, take a walk or call a trusted love one.
- Distract yourself: Bring your own videos to watch or books to read. Immersing yourself in engaging content can help you avoid the distraction of bars – which are now rampant in airports and even on planes.
- Ask for help. If you’re struggling, you can go to the ticket counter or concierge and ask for a friend of Bill W. – as many vacation spots, including airports, have someone in recovery available to lend support.
- Take advantage of technology: Download inspirational books, music, meditation apps and podcasts that will be soothing and can redirect you if you feel triggered.
- Hold yourself accountable: If you’re not traveling with a friend in recovery, make sure to let a sponsor or other support person know where you’ll be and confirm they will be available to check in during the trip and when you return home.
3. Socialize Safely.
- Practice safety first: It’s okay to say no to an activity if you feel it’s going to be emotionally unsafe. The bottom line is that your recovery must always be a priority.
- Have a strategy for handling dinners and events: If you’re attending a function, such as a wedding or bar-mitzvah, you can turn your wine glass over, so the wait staff knows not to fill it. Keep a glass of sparkling water with you so people don’t offer you drinks. Always have an exit plan – including a meeting you can attend after the event or a person you can call.
- Share caregiving and other responsibilities: Non-stop parenting, caring for an aging relative, cooking or cleaning while you’re away can be exhausting and detract from the purpose of a vacation. If you’re going with a group, discuss strategies in advance so you don’t have to bear the burden. Many places also have caregiver services that provide a much-needed balance and the opportunity to keep your self-care front and center.
There are many ways to access support while you’re away to keep your recovery going strong. The good news is that many alumni report enjoying family vacations or new experiences more in recovery than before because in recovery they are truly present and able to appreciate everything.
By Erin Goodhart
By Dr. Maggie Tipton