By Dana Bowman, author of How to be Perfect Like Me
Sober people might have a head start on wellness during stay-at-home orders.
The COVID-19 virus has taken our reality and turned it on its head. We are isolated. We are afraid. And for those of us in recovery, we might be wondering if we can handle all of this and stay sober.
Social media is a culprit and here’s why: It’s currently one of our main outlets at this time for connection, and at times like these, posting images of emptied beer bottles on the deck while the kids run rampant in the background is sort of expected, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink in times like this?
Me. That’s who.
As a sober mom who found recovery while parenting two small children, I understand pressure and isolation. In fact, much of this quarantine reminds me of just that: my early days in recovery, with two babies under two years old. We didn’t get out much. I ate too much chocolate and cried sometimes. I watched too much reality television and often felt anxious and alone, all very much in line with how I’m feeling now, some six years later.
We are on the battle lines with the coronavirus, and it’s strange and scary. The entire world is traversing through the five stages of grief, and for someone who is battling addiction, this grief is compounded by a real fear of stress-induced relapse.
But actually? The recovery tools so familiar to those who are sober have prepared us for these difficult days. And with this knowledge, we can be a great help to others. Here’s how:
1. We have experience with withdrawal. And we lived to tell the tale.
Scarcity and change are the ingredients of withdrawal. Those in recovery have looked withdrawal straight in the eye and carried through. If we could do it then, with a substance that we were more than likely physically addicted to, we can do it now with isolation and withholding from things we think we so badly need. Toilet paper, anyone?
2. We are adept at simplification.
When I got sober, my days were reduced to what really mattered: Just DON’T drink today. The narrowing of our focus and our strength was great training for these days, when some days the best we can do is to have fed the kids, kept them from killing each other, and headed to bed before eleven. It’s a simple existence right now, and we can stay calm and adapt because . . .
3. We know how to reach out. For real.
For me, recovery meant finally finding real connection. No longer did I have to wear a mask of “I’m fine! I’m totally fine!” but I could open up and share with others (starting with my sober group) about my struggles, my deepest fears, my needs. This taught me how to allow for vulnerability in my life, in all of my relationships. It also taught me how to set boundaries and let go of relationships that were toxic, which is essential for my own sanity. Today, when I’m feeling terrible and anxious and sad, I know the importance of reaching out to a trusted friend. The best part? I have those friends now all thanks to my sobriety.
4. We know what to do when we are hurting.
The key to getting sober was to get outside of myself. In the throes of early sobriety, I often found myself, hands clenched, praying through gritted teeth, “OK, God, how can I be of service?” And the opportunity would arise, and my mind would settle. Service is a serious medication. And it is seriously needed right now.
5. We know exactly what to work on, and what to leave alone.
A lot of time could be spent right now on social media, on spinning out, on drama, on worry, on stocking up, on making endless lists, on overwhelm. My sober toolbox taught me to do the next right thing. Recovery gives me a daily wellness script, and it applies to my days all the more now.
6. We have a legitimately awesome safe harbor.
There will be really hard days ahead. There is no control over all of it, but I am forever grateful that I was given the gift of group recovery. If there ever was a time to forego our dislike of online anything, it’s now. Get thee to a meeting. Stat. There are hundreds of options, and if that doesn’t suit your fancy then . . .
7. We have the courage to change the things we can.
Don’t want to find an online group? Create your own sober group for that needed sober check-in.
Recovery gave me the gift of acceptance. EVERYTHING in my life is filed under the heading of “Acceptance is Key.” Because of this, I am able to do quarantine, with the worry, with the pain and grieving, with the stress, with the kids all over the house, with the money issues, with the headlines, with all of it.
One day at a time.