The Value of Restorative Vacations in Recovery

Posted on September 14th, 2012

Taking a well-deserved vacation is a time-honored family tradition. But what happens when you’ve gone through rehab for drug or alcohol addiction and think that vacations are pretty much a thing of the past for you? Although the belief is completely mistaken, the reality is that many in recovery think they simply don’t deserve a vacation, can’t afford it, or that it may be somehow counter-productive to their overall recovery.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Here we’ll look at the value of restorative vacations in recovery. Don’t worry. Everyone can take one – if you adjust your mindset accordingly.

What is a restorative vacation? Is it going to a spa or a mountaintop retreat? Is it personal indulgence in luxuries, a stay at a posh hotel or travel abroad? Is it doing manual labor building homes for the underprivileged in Habitat for Humanity? Is it something else altogether?

Here are some thoughts on the value of a restorative vacation in recovery. Some of them you may not have considered relevant before but take a look at them anyway. You might find something resonates and decide it’s time for a trip after all.

Simple Vacations Can be Just as Effective

Before you say that you can’t afford to take a restorative vacation – or any vacation, for that matter – consider the fact that a simple vacation can be just as effective as one that’s elaborate, costly or time-consuming.

It’s all in how you view the value of taking time off. And, for many individuals in recovery, just getting comfortable with that kind of a concept involves some practice. Once you get past that mental hurdle, however, and begin to see there’s some merit in taking a little time away from present hectic schedules to relax, unwind and restore, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to construct the appropriate type of getaway to meet your needs – and your budget.

Improve Your Mental Health

Jumbled emotions, cluttered thoughts, feeling anxious and overburdened on a daily basis can’t be good for your mental health – or your overall progress in recovery. Research proves this to be true time and time again, so it’s a good recommendation to give your mind a little time off to heal as well as your body. You can do both at the same time by considering a restorative vacation.

Think about seeing something different than what you encounter every day. Not only do you get a different perspective, things just look different, don’t they? Whether it’s just you and your spouse or partner or the entire family accompanies you on your trip, taking the time to explore and discover new places and see new things helps to broaden your interests, ease your mind, and improve your mental health in general.

You’ll find that it’s easier to laugh, among other things, since you’re not caught up in the normal obligations, stresses and challenges of daily living. In recovery for a short time or a long-time member of the rooms of recovery, the benefit is there for everyone who chooses to make use of it.

Your children, should they be part of the vacation, will see another side of you, their parent, or older sibling, or other family member. You’ll be calmer, more relaxed, and more willing to share interests and activities. Even in an unfamiliar environment, everyone is more likely to feel more secure – if you display and project such confidence. This helps solidify the family bond as well as lift everyone’s spirits.

And all of this is a good outcome that’s reasonable to expect from a restorative vacation.

The Idea is to Reduce Stress

Think of your daily schedule at work. Think how often the phone rings or you get an urgent text or the boss comes by and wants your project results ASAP. You go in early, work through lunch or skip meals altogether, stay late, and even bring work home.

You’re constantly on edge, working against the clock, trying to catch up – especially if you’re just getting back to work after being in rehab – and it all adds up to a whole lot of very damaging stress.

A restorative vacation means that you allocate the time to get away from all these deadlines and the mounting stress that’s eating away at your physical and mental health – and may be jeopardizing your overall recovery.

Use the Time to Boost Your Creativity

You might not think that a restorative vacation can automatically jumpstart your creativity or get your so-called creative juices flowing again. But you’d be wrong. The truth is that a person’s creativity often becomes stifled when they’ve been under too much stress and tension, mostly due to work-related deadlines, but also because of all the inter-related challenges and issues for individuals in recovery.

What happens when you’re being creative? Ideas just seem to flow in an endless stream, almost as if they’ve magically appeared. You’re able to draw upon past experiences, current talents and skills, and to see connections where none existed or seemed possible before.

None of this is magic, however. It’s simply your brain doing what it wants to do: find possibilities, create solutions, dream and imagine and resolve issues, problems, overcome challenges and design something entirely new – or new to you.

In order to stimulate your creativity, having some time to yourself is an absolute necessity. You need to be able to fully relax and unwind, free from pressing deadlines and work- or home-related issues.

And, just in case you think a restorative vacation means skipping 12-step meetings, it doesn’t. You should be able to incorporate a visit to a self-help group in the area where you will be vacationing. If none is available nearby, you can always “attend” a meeting online or do a telephone meeting.

Taking a Breather is a Good Way to Avoid Burnout

Daily schedules, crushing deadlines given to you by your boss, coming in early and staying until long past the cleaning crew goes through the offices is a surefire recipe for burnout. And who among us hasn’t felt completely overworked and overwhelmed at times – especially when trying to deal with a whole new lifestyle of sobriety?

Everyone needs to take some time out from insane schedules. What’s inappropriately burdensome for some may be just a casual workday for others, so there’s no single time factor that can be applied to everyone that indicates burnout is imminent.

While the hours you put in at work or home may differ, the effects of burnout are similar: your body will ultimately shut down, you will become ineffective, your mind will sort of stop working, and everything will start to seem overwhelming and burdensome. Even simple decisions will be beyond your capability – if you go so far as to experience total burnout.

A better approach is to schedule little mini-vacations several times a year. It can be a week-end away now and then, along with a week-long (or longer, time and budget and schedules permitting) family vacation once a year.

How this relates to your recovery is that when you avoid burnout, by taking the occasional vacation breather, you are giving yourself time to recharge, refresh and renew. And recovery goals and tasks become much easier to manage when you’re not in a burned-out state of mind.

Carve Out the Time – No Work Allowed

Okay, so you know that avoiding burnout is a necessity and the whole idea is to eliminate or release as much stress as possible. To maximize the chance that you’ll have a truly restorative vacation means that you have to carve out the necessary time to take one.

That’s right. It’s up to you to prioritize your vacation in your schedule. Yes, this means making arrangements ahead of time, factoring in having others cover your assignments or take over household maintenance or obligations, maybe even childcare duties, while you’re gone. It does take a little planning, but the results will be worth it.

Along with carving out the time goes the admonition to keep work back at work. There should be no work allowed on this vacation – not if you want it to work as a means of restoring your energy, vitality and joy of life. No checking your emails or voice messages, no logging into the company network to post or review work, no business phone calls, nada.

It’s going to be tough for erstwhile workaholics and others who simply feel tethered to their jobs or careers to make a clean and complete break from work, but it absolutely must be done to be effective.

Figure Out What You Enjoy

Getting down to the basics, it’s important to figure out what it is that you enjoy doing most in your leisure time, or spare time, if you don’t usually characterize it as leisure time. The fact is that many newcomers to recovery don’t think about time in that respect. It’s all about the work, the hard work of recovery, with no time left over for having fun.

But you need to have fun, or at least to enjoy certain hobbies, pastimes or activities. When you’re engaged in doing what you like or love, you tend to feel better about yourself and your world – even your new life in sobriety. The two are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, when you incorporate joy into your life – like through taking restorative vacations – you’re helping to strengthen your recovery by solidifying your core skills and improving on your total emotional outlook.

Is it hiking in the wilderness that is most appealing to you? Do you prefer traveling to a distant location, or a place where you’ve always wanted to go but never found the time to visit? Maybe camping out with the family, going on a fishing trip, learning how to ski on a vacation week-end getaway?

The list of possibilities is endless. Go on. Take all the time you need to conjure up a few examples of what you’d consider to be an ideal restorative vacation, factoring in all the different variations of what you believe to be most important to you, things you really enjoy doing.

Reconnect With Your Spouse, Partner or Loved Ones

While some may think of time away with family to be a burden, all that close proximity of kids and dogs and various other household members, even extended relatives, the majority of Americans – including those in recovery – have a tendency to think of vacations as a time for renewal. Taking a vacation is a typical, normal and positive thing to do.

How often have you heard the recommendation to go away with your spouse and take the time to reconnect? Maybe get past the obstacles or difficulties or lapses in communication that you’ve experienced before, during and after your rehab? If there’s ever a good time to do this, it’s during some time that you spend away from your everyday routine, away from the bills, work and school schedules – away from it all.

Time is a precious commodity, and we all have a tendency to try to cram as much as possible into every single day. That leaves us little time left over, sometimes only minutes, to spend with those we care about the most.

Use the time away to throw out schedules and deadlines and must-do tasks. Allocate some fun activities that appeal to everyone in the family, including doing things together. Your spouse, partner, children and other loved ones will benefit from your efforts – and so will you.

Deepen Your Spirituality

There’s another aspect of a truly restorative vacation that bears mentioning here and that is the opportunity to deepen your spirituality. Whether you are traveling with your spouse or partner and family or other loved ones, or you have no one but yourself on the trip, use this golden chance to strengthen your spiritual side. Talk to your Higher Power or the God of your understanding or commune with nature or appreciate the spirit of mankind.

Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, even Pilates can help you get in the appropriate frame of mind. Don’t forget prayer, if this is something you believe in. But you don’t have to mouth or even think the words of a formal prayer for it to work. Just use your own words. They’ll be perfectly suitable, especially if they come from the heart.

While you may not experience a spiritual awakening or a profound change in what you believe, making a point of finding time to express and/or deepen your spirituality will benefit you and your recovery in ways you cannot immediately ascertain.

Consider This Part of Your Recovery

Putting it all together, the value of a restorative vacation is probably one of the most proactive things you can do for yourself and your recovery. It is so powerful, in fact, that it should be included in every overall recovery plan.

It is for this very reason that you should consider restorative vacations as part of your recovery. You need all the tools that are available to you in order to become solidly grounded in sobriety. One of these is certainly knowing when and how to refresh, renew, and rejuvenate in healthy ways. And there’s no better way to do this than to take some time to get away.

Make it a week-end, a week or longer, even a day away can often work wonders. It’s all in how you view it, how you approach your vacation, and how you allow yourself to benefit from all that you can get from this time away – your restorative sojourn.

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