Those two words are all it takes to conjure images of wild beach parties, outdoor concerts, and the youth of the U.S.A. cruising beach towns in convertibles with music blasting, looking for creative ways to have fun, let loose, and do what everyone is supposed to do on Spring Break:
Our culture glorifies Spring Break debauchery, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a week when excess everything is the rule, rather than the exception. From alcohol to drugs to sex, it’s like a given that the entire week is supposed to consist of poor decisions leading to sketchy behavior culminating in maxed-out credit cards, wicked hangovers, and tattoos you never wanted. It’s all fueled by a wink and a nod: we can’t prove this, but we bet tif you look closely at pictures of the famous parties celebrated on networks like MTV – which hosts yearly events from Acapulco to Vegas to Miami Beach – you’ll find half the people in the shot are underage, and most of them have an alcoholic beverage in their hand.
We’d link to some of the pictures, but what’s the point? You all know what girls in thongs, guys in board shorts, and rappers waving blunts and sipping sizzurp look like. It may look great from the outside, but if you’ve ever experienced addiction from the inside – and especially if you’re early in recovery – you know the truth: a typical American-style spring break is something you need to avoid at all costs.
It’s Not Just the Parties: It’s the Free Time
Even if you have no intention of going on a beach vacation where extreme partying is the norm, Spring Break can still be scary.
It may be the first time since leaving treatment that you’ve had an entire week of unstructured down-time ahead of you. Before treatment, weeks like this may have been your Holy Grail: finally, time to hang out and day drink, smoke weed, or do your drug of choice with your friends. Now that you’re out of treatment and in recovery, you have to decide how to handle yourself. You don’t want to relapse and sabotage all the work you’ve done to get sober – but you’re afraid you might not be able to resist the very real temptation of spring break: after all, the entire culture seems to want you to drink and do drugs.
So how do you hack it when the deck seems stacked against you?
How To Stay Sober During Spring Break: Make a Plan
Just like you did with the Aftercare coordinator at your treatment facility, you need to think ahead and create a solid and realistic plan for the week. If you’re not sure how to do it yourself, call your treatment center and ask for their help. Elements of a solid Spring Break Survival Plan include:
- Self-Belief. You can do it. You did a lot of hard work in treatment. Now it’s time to put all the coping skills and sobriety tactics you learned to the test. Be confident in yourself, the new knowledge you learned during treatment, and your ability to make it.
- Daily Details. Look at the calendar and plan out your week day by day. Find healthy sober activities to do that keep you away from temptation and keep doing things you know support your sobriety program. Then go further: plan your mornings, afternoons, and evenings around healthy, positive activities where triggers are minimized, and temptation is as close to zero as possible.
- Accountability Partners. You know by now that the social element of recovery is crucial. That’s why it can help to find a recovery peer who’s facing the same thing you are. Commit to one another that you’re going to make it through Spring Break without relapse.
- The Basics. Another thing you learned in treatment is a set of fundamental habits that keep you balanced and contribute to your overall health and recovery. Don’t drop these during vacation. In fact, double-down on them during vacation. Take complete ownership and responsibility for the following three things:
- Food. Eat healthy food at regular times.
- Rest. Adults need at least seven hours a night – you should get eight to ten hours a night.
- Exercise and Mindfulness. There’s a good chance you learned the benefits of daily exercise and mindfulness practices during treatment. Keep these habits going during vacation. You’ll even have time to do more of both – double bonus!
- Use Your Resources. By this we mean your official resources, such as Twelve-Step meetings, your sponsor, your Aftercare Coordinator, and your family. In addition to those, you can check out sobriety podcasts, blogs, and if Twelve-Step Programs work for you, keep the Big Book close at hand. You can use this time to work your steps and hone your Top-Line behaviors.
Flip Your Perspective
We totally understand: Spring Break might scare you. All that free time, all that temptation. Your old friends inviting you out. Those same friends posting pictures on social media. They’re having a blast – they’re dancing on the stage, sneaking in clubs, and riding in cars with the music blasting.
Part of you wishes you could be there. More than wish: part of you really, really wants to be there.
But don’t fall into the FOMO trap: Fear Of Missing Out.
You’re not missing out on anything. What you’re doing is taking advantage of this opportunity to prove to yourself that while the majority of people your age are partying – and possibly developing alcohol or substance use disorders of their own – what you’re doing is something completely different: you’re proving to yourself you can have ridiculous amounts of fun without drugs and alcohol.
When you look at it that way, you might not be terrified. You might just be psyched about the chance to do something you haven’t done in years: enjoy a healthy and wholesome Spring Break.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.