Written by Carlee Campbell, Patient Care Specialist at Edgewood Treatment Centre.
Coronavirus COVID-19 has demanded that we all completely rework the way we live our daily lives, while simultaneously forcing us to confront incredibly difficult emotional and financial realities. For those of us in recovery from addiction, it is helpful to remember, this is not our first rodeo. Addiction, whatever its form, ultimately lays waste to our emotional, spiritual, physical, and financial lives. In freeing ourselves from addiction, we must learn how to live in a completely new way. Since the outbreak, many of us are finding ourselves in eerily familiar territory, namely having to reconstruct the way we live our lives in challenging circumstances. Below are a few quick reminders of how you may have done just that and to remind you that it is indeed possible to do it all again.
As difficult as this concept is to embrace, there is only so much any of us can control right now. In a recent podcast, Dr. Gabor Mate reflected that in Western Society our response to powerlessness is, “Panic! Everything is out of control.” In Eastern philosophies, however, the response to powerlessness is, “Relax. Everything is out of control.” In both instances, there is no power to control the situation, but the perspective taken results in a completely different emotional reaction.
In another East meets West moment, try repeating the metta meditation phrase “things are as they are” to accept the powerlessness. We have heard it before. Acceptance is the answer to all of our problems. We can find no serenity until we accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is at this moment. Until we accepted our alcoholism, we could not stay sober. Unless we accept life completely on life’s terms, we cannot be happy. Happiness is available despite circumstances. If happiness seems too far away right now, reach for the peace found in acceptance. To learn more, check out page 417 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is where this was excerpted from, and keep on reading.
So a bit more about that whole “happiness being available despite circumstances” thing, which you may be thinking seems rather far-fetched at the moment. If you are interested in accessing this emotion, try gratitude. You may have heard the old adage, you will find what you are looking for. Hunt the good. Start with small lists, even just ten things. If ten is too many, do five, or even three. The list can be anything, from having a roll of toilet paper to your morning cup of coffee. Then repeat. Do these lists whenever you find yourself spinning in gloom and doom. The momentum will build. You will literally retrain your brain to find the good stuff instead of the bad over time. Happy hunting everyone! Read more about using gratitude to rewire your brain in this Forbes article.
As in, “stay present.” Many of us may find we are using too much mental energy trying to prevent the wreckage of our future, which is completely understandable. However, each day has enough troubles of its own. One of my favourite expressions right now is, “that is a tomorrow me problem.” Chances are you are curled up on a couch right now, reading this article, scrolling through the internet, possibly even having a cup of tea. For example, “today you” has the rent or mortgage paid. “Tomorrow you” may have a rent or mortgage problem, or “tomorrow you” may have the government funding you are waiting for come through. “Today you” is actually okay! However, worrying about what “tomorrow you” may or may not have to deal with, can definitely make “today you” miserable.
(5) More presence
As in, “just for today.” There are a lot of unknowns right now. One of the biggest concerns is centered on the question, “how long?” How long will we have to socially distance? How long will my business be closed? How long will my job be in limbo? How long will recovery meetings be shut down? The idea of having to live like this for weeks or months can seem unbearable. However, just like the early days of being free from substance use, it helps to remember that it’s not going to be like this forever. We just have to do it for today. If today seems impossible, then you just have to ask yourself if you can do it for the next hour or even the next five minutes. You can do almost anything for five more minutes. Then ask yourself if you can do five more minutes. You run a marathon a mile at a time.
Perhaps you are thinking all this talk about staying present is great, but how do I do that when I am in anxiety overload? Just breathe. However, not just any old breathing—try “box breathing”. This is also called square breathing. Visualize your breath traveling along a square. Try it now. Inhale up the first side of the square. Slowly count one, two, three. Hold your breath across the top. One, two, three. Exhale down the other side of the square. One, two, three. Then hold your breath across the bottom. One, two, three. After a few minutes of this you should be feeling calmer and more grounded. Read more about this and other helpful coronavirus strategies on the Harvard Health blog.
Just sitting and listening to yourself breathe, not your thing? Then try a guided meditation. Many meditation apps, such as “Headspace” and “Calm,” are offering extra free content specifically geared for coronavirus. Take a moment to check out the Headspace coronavirus page and Calm coronavirus page. You just may end up with a new habit to be grateful for!
Lastly, realize the only constant in life is change. We can trust that this too will get different. This situation is just like early recovery, with all those feelings that seemed so overwhelming and as though they would stick around forever. The emotions eventually softened, and we survived. We dug in, we learned, and we grew, eventually into very different and much better people. We can and we will do this again.