How to Enjoy Family Vacations Sober
Summer is high season for family vacations, but for those in early recovery and/or just out of rehab, the prospect of vacationing with other family members while newly sober can present some potentially tempting or uncomfortable scenarios—like the following, for example:
- The open bar at a cousin’s wedding that every other person in your sprawling extended family will be frequenting
- The car camping trip that brakes for moose at national parks, not recovery meetings
- The unavoidable conversations about how newfound sobriety is going when you’re the only recovering drug or alcohol addict in the bunch
- The emotionally stressful triggers, be they talks about sensitive topics or the same old difficult family dynamics
Then there is the reality that the concept of a family vacation may itself be quite new: some newly recovering addicts have never vacationed with family when in the throes of an active addiction, because a vacation would have taken them away from their dealer; or they may have only spent past vacations boozing or doing drugs. In such cases, the question can be, “Will a sober family vacation even be fun?” The answer is “yes.” Fortunately, there are many fun ways to vacation with family while sober. Below are some tips on how to enjoy the experience.
Plan a recovery-friendly vacation
Good planning well in advance is key to an enjoyable family vacation that’s not going to hijack your recovery. And one of the easiest ways to avoid the temptation of drugs and alcohol is to plan an all-inclusive vacation that is intentional about being drug or alcohol-free. There are various options available here:
- Take a “sober cruise” or family-friendly, alcohol-free cruise. Sober cruises provide all of the luxury amenities of a vacation cruise liner, but without alcohol. If you go this route, Sober Cruises is a good place to start. Founded by “a friend of Bill W.,” the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Sober Cruises incorporates a program of guest speakers and 12-Step meetings onboard—“because sobriety should be fun.” Sober Cruises offers tours to Alaska and New York. Sober Celebrations is another cruise option explicitly for those who “want to live happy, joyous, and free,” according to the website, and are looking for a wider variety of vacation destinations. The British Isles, Viking tours, the Baltic and Mediterranean, and South Africa are among the travel smorgasbord. In addition to these recovery-focused offerings, there’s a whole bevy of other family-friendly, alcohol-free cruise options to choose from.
- Try an all-inclusive sober vacation. If cruises are not your cup of tea, don’t despair. Sober Vacations has taken the Club Med concept of an all-inclusive exotic beach vacation and added a recovery twist. Whether it’s summer, fall, winter or spring, the travel site offers an enticing array of vacation destinations from the purely relaxing and luxurious (such as “Club Med Ixtapa”) to the more adventurous (like rafting in the Grand Canyon). Travel is open to individuals, couples and families in recovery.
- Plan a staycation. For those feeling less adventurous about leaving the safer and protective confines of a familiar recovery group and its weekly meetings, there is the option of staying put and exploring all of the interesting nooks and crannies of home. Book a hotel nearby and enjoy the fun perks of your town or city from the perspective of a tourist. You’ll be surprised at what you learn and the fun you discover, all within close proximity to your support network.
Stay accountable to your recovery mentor/peer support network
If none of the above options is feasible, be sure to let your 12-Step or peer support group know of your upcoming trip and any potential relapse triggers. Work out a plan for staying in close daily contact with at least two or three close friends in recovery. If you’re in AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), stay accountable to your sponsor also. Plan to keep your cell phone with you at all times for contingency situations.
If you’ll be vacationing in an area where AA or NA is active—and chances are you will be—research that meeting schedule in advance, and print it out or bookmark it in your smartphone so that you have it with you at all times. Or, for only $2.99, you can download this helpful app from AA, with a search tool for locating meetings. The same app also includes the full text of The Big Book, daily prayers and a “sobriety calculator” that keeps tabs on where you and friends are in your recovery journey.
Alternatively, if you’re a member of a SMART Recovery group, you may want to make use of the 123FlashChat app, which provides access to online meetings and 24/7 support via the chat room. That means all you’ll need to take your recovery on the road is a smartphone and a wireless connection.
Have a plan in place for how to deal with relapse triggers
A well-established relapse trigger is being around other people who are drinking or doing drugs. Studies have found, for example, that cravings for nicotine and (in turn) the likelihood of relapse increase in an environment where others are smoking cigarettes. The same is true with other substances. Be sure to anticipate these higher-risk settings in advance, so that you can compile a short, simple plan for how to navigate familiar drug or alcohol cues.
In the case of family gatherings, typically you can expect to encounter alcohol use in the following settings:
- Family reunions
- Baby and/or wedding showers
- Birthday parties
- Anniversary celebrations
If any of the above events will be happening during your vacation, have a plan in place for how to navigate them. Sometimes removing yourself from the situation will be your best response.
Negative emotional encounters can also be a big relapse trigger. If certain topics of discussion are emotional triggers for you, request in advance that you avoid these issues. That way, if the issues arise while you’re on vacation, you can politely but firmly leave the situation with less risk of unintentionally provoking a conflict or misunderstanding.
Know in advance what you’ll tell family members about your recovery
A family vacation is usually not the time for a tell-all memoir of your recovery from an addiction. Leave that for others in recovery, or for your therapist or private journal. Try to keep your responses to well-meaning inquiries from family short and sweet. If you need to, you can even memorize what you’ll say in advance. If you’re feeling anxiety about what to say in prospective situations, you might consult a therapist. They can coach you through possible scenarios and how to respond.
Keep a daily journal recording thoughts and feelings. The more you’re attuned to your inner world, the more likely you’ll be able to notice relapse triggers. Researchers have found that those who have difficulty recognizing and reporting their internal state may be at greater risk of substance abuse relapse.