As I write this piece, I’m experiencing the first true vacation I’ve had in more than 15 years. Although I’d traveled to tropical climates to visit my aging parents during the last few years of their lives, these visits involved caregiving.
At one point, my mother, who was in the hospital, lovingly kicked me out of her room and said, “Go to the beach!” Reluctantly, I did. The few hours I spent soaking up the sun were restorative. But when my mother passed away in 2010, I had no desire to return to south Florida. At that time, I had too many raw feelings about the deaths of my parents.
Being Instead of Doing
My best friend, Barb, and her husband invited me to spend a week with them doing a whole lot of nothing at their timeshare in Hilton Head, South Carolina. My initial internal response to their invitation was, I can’t take time off. I have too many items on my get-it-done list. But Barb reminded me that my work is portable and that in between researching and writing articles I could sit on the beach or by the pool and relax.
Relaxing can be a revolutionary concept for a recovering workaholic like me. For so many years, I’d worked myself into near-exhaustion. I ran ceaselessly on that proverbial hamster wheel, with no idea of when I could step off. Once I acknowledged the logic of my friend’s argument, I began to feel excited about the prospect of being rather than incessantly doing.
The 12-hour drive from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, allowed me to catch up on sleep. I had packed books that provided the ideal combination of entertainment and fodder for my writing. Having them assured the responsible adult in me that I could both relax and feel accomplished.
A Break For — Not From — Your Life
After two days here in South Carolina, I’ve easily surrendered to the sun and surf. I’ve enjoyed walking miles on the hardened sand while avoiding stepping on jellyfish that have washed ashore, splashing in the ocean waves, sleeping in, as well as laughing and reminiscing with my friends. I can already feel the layers of stress I’d accumulated over the years peeling away.
My room in the beautiful condominium where we’re staying offers a deep Jacuzzi tub in which I’ve soaked two nights so far. As the jets massaged away the muscle soreness from the day, I felt like clay being softened into a far more pliable form. I was taking time for me — without feeling guilty about it. This was an unusual sensation for me: In my codependence, I was focused on other-care rather than self-care.
I intend to recall this experience when, in a few days, I return home to my routine. For those of us in recovery, whether it’s from a substance or a behavior, taking time to rest and recreate is essential to the wellness process. When people plan a retreat, it may feel like an escape from the rigors and stressors of their daily routine. A vacation isn’t a break from life, but rather one for life. Framing time off this way is empowering, much in the way that treating healthy changes to your diet can be seen as self-care rather than calling these changes a “diet,” which often feels restrictive and depriving.
How to Have a Daily “Staycation”
Not everyone has the benefit of a beach, a condo or friends who generously invite them to play for a week. But each day can include activities that provide the same kinds of effects. The following activities let you take a bit of personal time for yourself, regardless of how far away the nearest beach — or scheduled vacation from your work — is:
- Walk in a park or a wooded area
- Plant a garden
- Take a bath
- Read a book for pleasure
- Listen to music that soothes you
- Explore a culture you find attractive by learning the language, or cooking food, listening to music or reading a book that reminds you of it
- Use aromatherapy oils
- Get a massage
- Dance to music that moves your soul
- Canoe or kayak
- Hike in the mountains
- Sit outside on a lounge chair
- Hang wind chimes
- Enjoy a fancy nonalcoholic drink, complete with a paper umbrella
Enjoy a Sober Vacation
Should you decide to embark on a journey away from home, remember that a break from daily life doesn’t mean a break from recovery. The following steps can help you enjoy your time away without compromising your sobriety:
- Travel with sober friends, or at least with people who respect your decision to refrain.
- Have a plan to engage in activities that don’t involve substances.
- Join sober tours such as those run by Clean Fun Network or Sober Vacations International. Both offer a variety of vacation packages that allow you to be surrounded by like-minded fellow travelers.
- Be prepared to improvise. It’s important to plan well, but be prepared to “order off the menu” as well, because the unexpected is part of the experience.
Whether your trip is to faraway lands or your own backyard, enjoy the residual benefits of a sweet sojourn.