Opinion by EHN Staff
Written by Carlee Campbell, Patient Care Specialist at Edgewood Treatment Centre.
While trying to find the end of the internet and eating my feelings recently, the meme to the right popped up. First of all, it made me laugh. (You can follow @sobergrind on Instagram for more sobriety-oriented comic relief .) Then, I started to reflect on what my time in treatment was like. There were so many new rules! At the time, I was quite convinced the staff at Edgewood had designed the perfect system to torture me. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and the perspective gained as a staff member, I see the structure was actually the foundation for a new way of life. You certainly could not have told me that when I was a patient, but I digress. In any event, many of the structures in the treatment environment are actually put in place to help people grapple with new behaviors. Essentially, treatment structure is a bunch of rules someone else sets for us that help us learn to function completely differently, and ultimately, save our lives.
If this seems similar to what is happening right now with the Government creating a whole set of directives by which we must live in order to save lives, it is because the two are virtually identical. So, perhaps, the same types of things that can prove useful for those trying to find a new normal in treatment, can be the same types of things that help us all acclimatize to the new normal in the face of stay-at-home orders. Hence, without further adieu, I give you today’s list of top ten things you learn in treatment that are potentially useful during a pandemic.
(1) Create Some Structure
The human body and mind thrives on routine. However, the recent pandemic has thrown everyone’s day-to-day schedules completely off. If you have lost the structure that going to school or work provided, then it’s time to create your own schedule. In doing so, consider there are four key dimensions to self-care: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. A useful breakdown of these dimensions can be found on the website of the Crisis and Trauma Research Institute. If you reflect back on your time in treatment, the daily schedule addressed each of these key dimensions. Our daily structures right now should do the same.
(2) Implement “Lights Out”
A key component of treatment structure, namely “lights out,” deserves its own bullet. Our sleep can completely deteriorate without consistent going-to-bed and wake-up times. Sleep is our bodies’ restorative process and is critical for all four of the dimensions of health. High quality sleep allows us to better handle stress. Therefore, having a consistent bedtime is pretty crucial right now, even as a grown-up. The Mayo Clinic has some helpful basics to begin crafting your sleep routine here.
(3) Make Your Bed
When we do get up from bed, setting the tone for our day is so important. In times of stress, our worries often greet us as soon as we open our eyes. We do not have to greet them back, at least not right away. But we do have the opportunity to pause and feel good about completing the first task of the day. The very simple act of making our bed can be a touchstone, reminding us of the lessons learned in treatment. Making your bed can be much more than that. In fact, according to Psychology Today, making your bed just might change your life. At the very least, it will create some positive momentum to propel you in the right direction for the day.
(4) Meditate in the Morning
Just like making our beds, taking a few minutes for morning meditation can provide an important grounding point for whatever stresses the day may bring. The list of meditation benefits is long. Further, the science behind its positive effects on mental health and addictions is substantial and has only grown since Forbes described the way meditation changes the brain for the better. In essence, meditation provides us with the opportunity to witness our thoughts, without reacting to them. This in turn, allows us to find the ever so essential pause between our impulse and our actions, which can not only improve our reactivity but also our sobriety. For a beautiful reading on the importance of pausing, go here.
(5) Pay Attention to the Little Things
Right now, too much dwelling in the past or the future can be a treacherous activity. Many of us have heard it said, the mind is a dangerous neighbourhood, one should not enter alone. Yet, many of us find ourselves physically isolated right now. By bringing ourselves back to the little things around us, we are able to connect to the present. This practice is also known as mindfulness. If you are interested, try listing the following:
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can physically feel
- Three things you can hear
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste
A useful example of this technique can be found on the Mayo Clinic website. This will help us pull our focus away from the thoughts spinning in our heads and ground us back in the present moment. As we train ourselves to stay present, our focus will naturally gravitate towards noticing these little things. Mindfulness will also help us stop misplacing important items, like coffee cups and keys.
(6) Limit Your Phone Time
More specifically, limit your phone time that lacks intention. We have entered an even more screen-based world for the foreseeable future. So, right now, setting time limits on technology use may not be realistic. However, perhaps consider the quality of the time that you spend on various devices. Ask yourself whether you’re really benefiting from endless hours scrolling through social media. For example, perhaps now is not the best time to find out what all your exes from ten years ago are up to. If you’re finding yourself tempted by urges like these, consider reading this Time Magazine article to help assess the quality of your screen time.
(7) Daily Walks Outside (Unless Medically Unable)
This goes back to that whole “four key dimensions of health” thing that came up when we were talking about structure. Your body needs attention—as much attention as our minds, emotions, and spirits. Walking is one of the simplest, easiest, and most natural ways to give your body some movement, as no special equipment or training is required. If you’re looking for some science to support this simple claim, check out the Harvard Health website. The article also provides some helpful safety tips for going outside, regardless of the weather. Our moms, teachers, and every grown-up ever, probably were not wrong when they told us that fresh air would do us good.
(8) Write Down Your Feelings
Those pesky feelings are bound to come up, and journaling is a wonderful way to access them. The New York Times provides quite the list of why we should journal, one of the cheapest and most effective self-care techniques out there. Taking time to reflectively write every day is a potentially beautiful thing. However, if this seems unpalatable, try just answering the following two basic questions on a piece of paper:
- What was the most important event in your day?
- Why was it the most important event in your day?
Even this simple exercise can help you unlock some of journaling’s magic. If you are already an active journal writer, try taking it to the next level with Creative Journaling for Recovery or The Artist’s Way.
(9) Try Suggestions
Whether you read them here on this blog, or elsewhere, there are so many useful ideas out there right now about healthy behaviors. However, perhaps you find yourself, like me, suffering from skepticism that prevents me from trying them out? It is a common affliction of us recovering folk. So often with our sponsors, counsellors, and friends we can find ourselves listing off the reasons their suggestions could not possibly work. When facing down such arguments, a common question I get asked is, “but did you even try?” I do not know about you, but my answer is usually a “no,” with a sprinkling of embarrassment. I am then usually left with no other option but to wander off, tail between my legs, to give it a go. The really irritating thing is going back later and admitting that the suggestion was beneficial.
(10) Trust the Process
If we’re following our aftercare plans, there is a 100% guarantee that whatever you are going through will become different. Sometimes “different” feels worse at first—but it will change. It will get better, even if better is an “over time” kind of thing. If we stay sober, there is so much opportunity and potential for change. If we don’t, welcome back to Groundhog Day, where every 24 hours looks like the same crushing reality of trying to find our substance of choice. With the coronavirus pandemic, much like when we landed ourselves in treatment, we just need to show up and follow the rules set by those who have a lot more knowledge of what we collectively need to get better. At some point down the road, we’ll find ourselves in a state of recovery from this pandemic as well.
We Can Help You
If you would like to learn more about the treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, or if you have any questions about addiction or mental health, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.
- 1-800-387-6198 for Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, ON
- 1-587-350-6818 for EHN Sandstone, in Calgary, AB
- 1-800-683-0111 for Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, BC
- 1-888-488-2611 for Clinique Nouveau Depart in Montreal, QC