Whether you’ve been to rehab, go to a sober school, or quit drinking or using on your own, facing any point you associate with vacation, enjoyment, and excess can feel like facing your addiction. The same is often true of the holidays, where many people relapse. Summer can have the same issues, especially for those of us who are still in school or in college. It’s also especially pressing if you’re accustomed to vacationing, which is often just an excuse to drink and use.
At the same time, feeling overwhelmed about summer coming up might mean that you’re looking at things the wrong way. You might just have to change what you want to do, to look forward to things that are fun without drugs and alcohol, and to invest in having a good summer – instead of worrying.
However, you should always take steps to help yourself stay sober, especially if you haven’t done so in the past.
If you’re afraid to go through a summer or a vacation without drugs or alcohol, it might just mean you’re remembering the wrong parts about drinking and using. Often, we leave something behind and then we glorify it. After all, it’s a lot easier to go dancing, to socialize, to engage with others, and to have fun with drugs and alcohol right? Well, no. Chances are you quit for a reason, because it wasn’t fun. How much of your other summers do you remember? How much of it was hangovers and feeling terrible. Letting down the people in your life? Cravings? There’s nothing fun about drug and alcohol binges – they just seem that way for a small percentage of the time but the rest of it is anything but.
If you’re glorifying drugs or alcohol in your head by remembering just the good times, it may be a good idea to discuss things with your therapist or support group. You might want to discuss the bad times with peers, to remember how awful some of alcohol abuse actually is.
It’s important to plan things that you can look forward to. You might not be able to lean on drugs and alcohol but you still want to enjoy things and that means doing fun things and with others. Dancing, sports, hiking, group projects, and having a social life are important. Planning to have fun can be extremely difficult if you’re not sure what you like. It’s even harder if you’re going on vacation, you’ll have an extremely difficult time avoiding alcohol and will instead have to rely on your coping mechanisms. At the same time, you should know what you’d like to do.
If you’re traveling, make time to see sights, to experience local culture, and to experience food. You’ll want to avoid cruises and destinations where people largely go to party – because those destinations will very much be about drinking because there’s little else to do.
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If you know what your triggers are, when you experience cravings, and what the symptoms are, you can more easily react to them, get help when you need it, and stay accountable. For example, if you can react to cravings as quickly as possible, you can take steps to protect yourself. For example, taking 15 minutes to do something with your hands when you start to experience cravings can give the craving enough time to go away while offering you distraction. That might be washing the dishes, it might be playing guitar, it might be playing a game on your phone. The important thing is that you stop and pay attention to something else.
Here, you’ll want to put effort into figuring out your triggers, when you’re likely to be triggered (location? Weather? People? The smell of alcohol?), and when you’re most likely to experience cravings.
In almost every case, it’s also a good idea to have someone to be accountable to, that you can call to ask for help from, and that you can call to talk to if you need. That may be your sponsor or sober buddy, it may be a friend, and it might also be your therapist or a counselor. Who you call should very much depend on your specific situation and where you’re at in your recovery journey.
If you’ve been to rehab, you’ve learned how to invest in and keep up self-care routines. Those might include exercise, healthy eating, self-help groups, therapy, and keeping your home clean. If you suddenly have a break, it’s easy to let those routines go. It’s important that you don’t. Even if you’re spending your summer on vacation, you’ll want to maintain good habits. For example, you’ll still want to maintain roughly the same sleep schedule. It’s also a good idea to ensure that at least 80% of meals are good for you. And, keeping up with exercise habits is always a good thing.
If you do go to treatment, self-help, or even have a telehealth counselor, you’ll want to maintain that. If you’re traveling, you can normally check into 12-step and SMART groups online. You might also be able to join groups in a new city as a guest. This sort of routine maintenance can help you to stay clean and sober, while offering the social accountability to maintain external motivation.
Eventually, your summer should be about having the chance to enjoy that summer without drugs and alcohol. It should be a chance to experience your time for what it is, as yourself, and with other people. If you find yourself glamorizing drugs and alcohol, it’s a good sign you might want to keep talking to your therapist, to keep working on finding good things to do with your time, and to keep working on your coping mechanisms. Hopefully, you can have a great summer, drug and alcohol free.