I don’t know about you but getting clean made my life a whole lot busier. Twenty-three years later and the need for downtime and timeout from the day-to-day grind is as essential to my well-being and recovery as it ever was.
I’m writing this blog from my parent’s house in rural Ontario Canada. Every summer I spend two weeks here, a combination of amends and vacation time. My parents left the city of Toronto six years ago and moved to a town of eleven thousand people who are spread out across thousands rolling acres of farmland and forests. A seven-minute drive ends at a sandy beach on Lake Ontario.
Usually I spend the majority of my time here in the yard or in my room working on whatever project I brought along. This trip has been different. I’ve spent a lot of time playing ball with a twenty-month old Jack Russell named Harley. Most days I take Harley to a stone beach and throw sticks into the lake for him, go on long country bike rides, walk the dog to the horse farms, and at some point drive back to the beach for a long swim. This routine is broken up by whatever scenic drives my parents want to take. Occasionally I will go to my room and check email or my cell to see if I am missing anything from my life in New York. I’m not. Until tonight, I also haven’t been writing.
Vacations are a time-out from the daily grind of life. I don’t know about you but I tend to forget this. I hear friends talk about doing nothing on island vacations but that has never been my style. Normally a vacation means visiting a new city somewhere on the planet and exploring it from morning until bedtime. My vacations are usually heightened stimulation and inspiration and a break from my regular life. Coming to Canada and forcing myself to work everyday at my computer was as close to doing nothing as it gets for me. This year I am having a real vacation. I must under-estimate the sheer levels of stress city life imposes: the noise, the crowds, the pressures to be here and there, the effort to maintain healthy balance with recovery, exercise, leisure, work, diet – the effort to stay sane. I love city life but it is important to take time out. It took three days for my body wind down and a new level of rest come into me. I see this vacation as a re-up.
I arrived here with a lot of noise in my head. The list of what I need to get finished, emails that need to be sent, dates I need to schedule – there seemed to be a lot of things I “needed” to do – so much that I felt overwhelmed. Two weeks in a heat wave without air conditioning and I’d done nothing. So I arrived with stress and anxiety and exhaustion. This of course felt like low-grade depression. Free-floating waves of despair swept through me. I arrived depleted. Thank God. I was too beaten to summon the fight to keep going at my usual pace. Defeat was the silver lining of that heat wave.
Two days of napping and my spirit lightened. On day three I went to the beach. From that point on, my days have been spent as I indicated above. I now notice clouds, the smell of cedar as I bike past a forest, the sound of the waves hitting the shore, sunsets on the water. I have a sense of peace that is deeper than what I am able to get in the city with yoga, meditation and visits to the park. Sometimes you just have to step away from your life to get these needs met.
In recovery, I have learned to listen to my heart (or to my gut). It always lets me know what I need. This was even true in early recovery. You may not know you are stressed or burnt out until a friend tells you but if you take some quiet time, your body will let you know what it needs. It could be an air-conditioned movie to buy 90 minutes of not thinking about your life or texting anyone. It could be a long walk in the evening, a bike ride, a dance class. Your spirit will always cry out for some relief from the grind but it is up to you to feed it.
If you can’t get a vacation, give yourself one weekend day as a day for yourself and schedule in something that will feed your spirit: nap time, a country or beach walk, a river stroll, a picnic in the park with your favorite book – and please leave your cell and your i-pad at home for a minimum of 6 hours. I’ve checked mine and 8 days later, my real life has not fallen apart.
If your life is so busy that you can’t afford a whole day for yourself, schedule in several hours a couple times a week and use it to go outside. Pay attention to the small details in your view. We all have scenery, even in cities, so take some quiet time and look at whatever beauty there is around you. Think of it as a mini re-up.
Visiting parents can be the most stressful thing people in recovery can do and during the first 7 or 8 years of my recovery I never knew what to expect. Would I revert back to asshole teenage behaviors? Would old resentments take over my thoughts? Would I arrive with expectations and be disappointed? Would I blurt out something hurtful I couldn’t take back? Visiting family didn’t always feel like a vacation. Luckily, the ongoing process of recovery has healed a lot of old wounds, given me perspective, and has changed my relationships – even with my parents. I am enjoying a peaceful vacation without busy-ness, without having feelings I need to escape from, and in the company of two people I am grateful to still have in my life.
In recovery, we change and our relationships with others change. You may cringe at the idea of two weeks with family but if it is something you do, who knows, maybe one day you’ll discover yourself enjoying it. Summer is a glorious time. Wherever you are and whatever you do, set aside some time to enjoy it and be rejuvenated by it.