Opinion by EHN Staff
Written by Carlee Campbell, Patient Care Specialist at Edgewood Treatment Centre.
It has been approximately a month since the coronavirus began rapidly changing the world in which we all live. There is not a facet of our lives that has gone unaltered. Workplaces, schools, churches, and communal gathering spaces have been shuttered. Sporting, entertainment, vocational, and recreational events have been cancelled until future notice. Even informal social gatherings cannot happen in the same manner at the risk of fines.
Our worlds have shrunk, often to the size of our own homes and the grocery store. Within these homes, there are unprecedented stress levels associated with uncertain physical health and financial futures. The mental and emotional issues we so often find ourselves too distracted and busy to confront have risen to the surface. All this is occurring while we find ourselves suddenly and starkly “socially distanced” from the recovery and spiritual networks we have carefully crafted to deal with life on life’s terms.
In short, things are getting messy. We are forced to confront the best and worst of ourselves in the quiet and stillness that the coronavirus pandemic has created. That reality can be a painful one to face. However, pain has always been the price of our best growth in recovery. It was deep, unrelenting pain that forced us to confront and overcome our addiction. In sobriety, it is learning from the most hurt-filled experiences that spurs us to even greater growth. Isolation in response to coronavirus will be no different, if we allow the pain it causes to be our teacher.
However, moving through pain is rarely pretty, particularly for those of us who were used to using the “easy button” of addiction to avoid feeling it altogether. Pain brings to the forefront all our ugliest coping mechanisms initially, as we start awkwardly grasping at doing things differently. Whether it is control, anger, intolerance, depression, tears, self-pity, or some other poison of our picking, our default reactions are often not exactly where we would like them to be right now. As a result, we may find ourselves coming out sideways at the people we care about the most. Friends, family, partners, children, and coworkers (if we are lucky enough to still have them) are often having less than ideal interactions with us these days.
So, what can we do about this after the damage has been done? The answer is “lots.”
You have heard me say it before, and you will likely hear me say it again before this time is over. Acceptance is the answer to all of our problems. The thing that needs accepting this time around is the fact we are not going to do this whole pandemic coping thing perfectly. This is certainly the first pandemic we have had to weather. So if you find yourself in the same situation as me, and there is a pretty good chance you are unless you are old enough to have lived through the Spanish Flu, we are all in unfamiliar territory. We are going to get it wrong. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to break it and have to pick up the pieces. That is okay!
Awareness is a superpower. That’s good news! It is one of the most amazing gifts recovery has given us. We have rejoined the land of the living. We are actually capable of feeling when something is off. If we are having trouble identifying what exactly that thing is, we can reach out to our friends, family, recovery network, and counsellors in our lives to help us figure out what exactly is off. We can then discern what our part is in the problem. You cannot change that of which you are not aware. In more good news, once you increase your self-awareness, you usually get to spend a lot less time spinning on choices, finding courage, and making amends. Meditation is a great way to heighten self-awareness, which you can learn more about here.
Once we have identified what has gone wrong, we get to do something about it. I like to call this part “acceptance, now what?” There are, after all, two parts to the Serenity Prayer. Part one is the call to accept the things we cannot change. Part two is the courage to change the things we can. If we have acted out and hurt someone else, I would suggest we find ourselves in part two. We get to confront the choice of whether we will do something about our wrongdoing or not.
Do not get me wrong—admitting when we are wrong is not an easy thing to do. It may be hard, it can be scary, and it is almost always uncomfortable. That said, it also feels incredible when it is done. Again, in recovery, we get to live our lives in accordance with our values. When we have stepped out of alignment with those values, we have the opportunity to do something to course correct. We just need to be brave enough to do it. A quick reminder here, we got sober from drugs and alcohol. We can do hard things, including owning up to our mistakes.
A good amends is more than just words of apology. During our addiction, we became experts at using words evasively to get out of difficult situations in which we found ourselves. A proper amends should actually lay the foundation for behaviour change. One helpful way to break it down is by using the “Three A’s,” which are as follows:
What was the wrong done? This is where you lay out the facts of what happened. It is super helpful to have talked this one through with a friend or sponsor, otherwise chances are you may only being seeing the facts from one point of view—namely yours.
Why was it wrong? Saying we did a bad thing is a lot different than an “I’m sorry” that acknowledges the underlying value our behaviour or words violated. When we acknowledge the why, it brings our values back into alignment with our own integrity, and often the beliefs of the person we have wounded. This opens the possibility of healing for both parties.
This is where we commit to acting differently. The acknowledgement and the apology are meaningless if the behaviour stays the same. Atonement requires action to make things right, not just once, but at every opportunity. In other words, this is where we do more hard things.
Very often, conflict has two sides. We may entirely clean up our side of the street, and be incredibly disappointed to look over at the hot mess remaining on the other side. People may not respond to our amends in kind. They may carry on unwilling to even acknowledge their part, let alone consider changing it. However, we still get to choose our response to their behaviour. Choose grace. Choose to extend unmerited favour and love. We have often experienced so much forgiveness for the things we did in our addiction. Now is the perfect time to reciprocate the grace we were once shown.
This may be the hardest task on the list. Compassion, by definition, is consciousness of distress together with the desire to alleviate it. The above list certainly addresses the desire to alleviate the distress of others. However, we need to show the same concern for our own distress that we extend to everyone else. If we have done our best to do the above tasks, we need to let the conflict go. That includes letting go of the mental obsession attached to it. The matter is now out of our hands. We do not have a time machine to undo the conflict in the past. We also cannot control the reactions of others in the future. We can only do our part. If the matter is now out of our hands, it deserves freedom from our minds as well. Let self-compassion fill its place.
This list may seem daunting. It certainly is not easy. That said, it may also be very necessary if we want a little more peace and connection during this incredibly difficult time. In fact, it just might be the right thing to do.