Confessional Disclaimer: I’ve never taken a single vacation (other than solo) that didn’t result in conflict in one form or another raising its sparky head.
Let me offer one memorable vacation and take it apart in detail as a template to overlay upon your own vacation experiences. But first off, though, it’s important to present the fundamental framework I’m operating under: heart-brain-mind-body healing integration is always looking for opportunities to happen. And vacations, in my experience often present such opportunities in spades.
So, in the middle of one seemingly unending winter, my wife at the time and I decided to take a vacation to Cabo San Lucas. Neither of us speak much Spanish, but we didn’t expect to need it since we’d be mostly staying at a beach resort that catered to American Tourists. We booked roundtrip tickets on Mexicana airlines, and on the day of our scheduled departure, I found myself experiencing pretty high levels of anxiety – I would be leaving right in the middle of some very critical work that my company was in negotiations over. There’s mounting evidence that stress significantly reduces cognitive abilities – we can’t think straight. We also lose a lot of clarity and big picture capacity as the stressors significantly narrow our focus. So, I was already carrying a significant allostatic load before this vacation ever started.
Things got significantly more stressful when it turned out that a cowboy was piloting our Mexicana jet. I’m a nervous flyer anyway, figuring I’ve got some bad karma waiting in the wings for all the defective airplane parts I manufactured and sold in my early 20s. But when the Mexicana pilot went in to the local airport from a steep bank into a 30 degree descent, I nearly threw up into the barf bag. A number of people on the 727 actually did. I can feel the stress ratcheting up even as I write this. Memory can amplify stress.
Once off the plane and onto the tarmac, we were immediately greeted by “guides” with all kinds of great deals to offer us. I politely turned all of them down, but one young guy was very, very persistent. Finally, simply to be rid of him, I bought a $5 meal ticket that only required me to visit a two-hour timeshare presentation. With that purchase came great shame for allowing myself to be badgered into being “ripped off.”
At the resort the next day, I spent several hours out on the beach under a large umbrella, reading and sleeping and just generally trying to relax. Without realizing it, by day’s end UV rays had infiltrated through the umbrella and given me a painful sunburn. Physical pain is a great stress amplifier.
That night at dinner, my wife and I got into a heated discussion about something or other (“We are never upset for the reason we think”). In the middle of the discussion I looked down into my salad and discovered a large, dead human botfly nestled in the lettuce. That did it for me and our dinner.
Back up in our resort room, I found myself extremely upset. Knowing that my level of anger was out of all proportion to anything directly happening at any moment on this trip, I found myself in a bind: I didn’t want to take it out on my wife any more than I already had, and I didn’t have any other outlets that I could identify for releasing it.
After a fitful night of tossing and turning, I awoke in the morning to a full-blown panic attack – an experience I’d suffered from for much of my adult life. Only I didn’t know the experience by any name, only by how I felt and what I needed to do in order to feel better: I had to get out of Cabo. Immediately. When I told my wife that I was done with our vacation (after only one day!), she immediately called and made us a reservation for the next flight back home.
Avoid Reenactment Without Resolution
Nothing got healed or resolved on that vacation; mostly reenactment without resolution. What might have helped would have been some somatic intervention that could have explored where the feelings lived in me, what memories and early images were connected to the feelings, and what might have been needed at the time the original memories were formed that could now be positively enacted.
Which is exactly what transpired in a somatic psychotherapy session 20 years after that painful Cabo “Vacation.”