If you are struggling, call a drunk.
This may seem like odd advice, but it could be just the thing that gets you through this pandemic. Recovering from addiction is a lot like sheltering in place. Ultimately we are all responsible for our own health…physical, mental and spiritual health. Think BODY MIND SPIRIT. It takes all three to enjoy the full benefits of recovery. When I started my recovery journey, someone told me “this really is not that hard, all you have to change is everything…” So when the Shelter in Place order came down from states across the nation, this alcoholic knew he had the skills to pay the bills. Everything is going to change!
As a group, we alcoholics have some special “skills” we have learned to get through and thrive during tough times. Changing everything is what I needed to do to save my own life 15 years ago. It took several years for me to realize that I alone was my biggest problem and that not only was no one else to blame for my predicaments, but I was indeed the only one who could dig myself out of the hole in which the disease of alcoholism put me. I see a lot of similarities between our nation and an alcoholic. An intervention is the event that starts many alcoholic/addicts on the road to recovery. An intervention is generally what takes place before the addict goes off to rehab for 28 days. During these intervention meetings, family and friends “surprise” the addict when they walk into a room set up for just such an event. There is always a recovery professional in attendance to make sure things stay on track as much as possible. One by one, people read a statement describing how they have been affected by this person’s addiction and behavior. This is very painful and emotional for all involved and the reality is no one knows how it will turn out at the end of the day. Sometimes the addict will go along with their loved ones and go to rehab and take their medicine, however, many times this is not the case. Addicts are well known for not being able to see what is so clear to everyone else. It is apparent to me that we are in the same situation as a nation.
At this moment, we are being asked to look at ourselves and make some big changes. Mother Earth, Universe, God, seem to be saying we have taken things too far and this entity has invited us to a global intervention. Are we going to take our medicine and start to get better or are we going to go on and continue to act like a bunch of assholes? There are some of us who have taken this medicine before and are actually very well prepared for times such as these. As I mentioned, when I got sober, I needed to change everything. Of course I had no idea what this meant at the time and thought it was a joke, but then EVERYTHING changed. I learned through this process that things did get better… different but better, and I started living a “normal” life.
Today more than ever this seems to be a healthy perspective to get our lives back on track. The states are all going to reopen their economies as they see appropriate. What if we looked at restarting our individual lives in much the same way the states are starting their economies. I have decided not to worry about the specific machinations around how politicians and business leaders are going to reopen the economy. Maybe in much the same way governors have decided to not look to the feds for help. People need to be aware of certain timelines of course, but anything happening outside the four walls that make up my home, is a distant 2nd in importance. More importantly, I am going to “reopen” the inside of myself. What do I need to adjust and improve about myself so that I can make the highest contribution possible when things get “moving” again? Think about that for a moment. What if everyone just stopped watching the news? There is nothing new or important on the cable news channels. Just turn them off. Then commit to 30 minutes of media consumption per day. That is all you need in order to find out when you are going back to work, and whether or not your elected officials have decided to open up the local economy again. What else do you need to know about the outside world? Everything else you need to prepare for the re-opening is already between your ears.
This is tough psychological work though and most people are just too scared to go down their own personal rabbit hole. I don’t blame anyone for this. While I knew I was an alcoholic from the time I was 16 and also knew I was going to have to do something about it, I did not start working at getting sober until two weeks before my oldest biological daughter was born. When I was hired as a financial advisor at UBS, the manager who hired me said… “I think I am looking at someone who has taken a little longer to grow up than most.” Wow! He hit the nail on the head. I still am not grown up…it is comforting to me then when my Dr. told me “there is no such thing as adults.” What a relief…although there are some grown ups that are more mature than others.
I have heard reports from people first hand as well as from the little news that I do watch that people are finding themselves waking up at 3:00 am, frightened, and not able to go back to sleep. Folks are finding this time to be actually very scary. When people’s minds begin to race, thoughts can go off into some incredibly dark places, even without a pandemic. As I have worked to stay sober, I have learned over the years that in order for me to get to the next plateau of my life’s journey, I need to go through the darkness. The first time I truly encountered the darkness, it was awful. There were parts of myself which I killed with alcohol, drugs, sex, and other distractions. When those distractions went away, I was left alone with my own thoughts. FUCK!!! In 1654, Pascal wrote his famous quote “All of humankind’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Let that sink in nice and deep for a minute and then think about it later. There may have never been a better time to hear these words than right now. I have learned whatever dark thoughts I have at 3:00 a.m., I need to write them down and talk about them later with my sponsor or someone else that I trust to hold my secrets. However, there is at least one person in my life who knows everything, or else I am still prone to play games with the fragmented version of myself that I have put into the world. It feels impossible to not believe in the pain that has fallen on you in the middle of the night. It feels so real that it must be your reality. I am here to report all those fears you feel at 3:00 a.m. are False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR). The reality is you are safe at home in your bed, be grateful. The reality is that you have a small studio apartment for which you can pay rent, be grateful. The reality is you have a bed with sheets and a blanket, be grateful. The reality is you have food within an arm’s reach, be grateful. The reality is your children are sleeping in their rooms, be grateful. I have found it is indeed gratitude which gets me to a place where I can be quiet. This has ended up being the greatest gift I have ever given myself. The ability to sit still in a room alone and quietly is a powerful skill to posses and it is in short supply.
During the Summer of 2018, my wife and I executed what we called a “hard reset” for our marriage. From Memorial Day to Labor Day we lived apart and had very limited interactions. This was absolutely the toughest thing I have ever had to work through. There were two keys to my individual success and therefore the success of the marriage. First, I never pointed the finger at anyone else unless I was standing in front of a mirror. Second, whenever I awoke at 3:00 am or had a similar event during the day, I had to sit with the fear and figure out where it was coming from within me. 99% of the time it is an implicit memory from my childhood. I saw my therapist twice a week for most of the summer and she took a lot of calls from me when I was struggling with what I later discovered was “flooding.” At the end of the day though, the responsibility for getting better is always on my shoulders, and only I will know to what level I have done the work, as honestly as possible. I have received a corresponding amount of contentment in my life after these dark stretches. When the darkness comes, it’s not so dark any longer. Heck sometimes what used to be complete darkness, is now beautiful twilight. Crises make reputations. If you know someone with long term success in recovery and are struggling yourself, reach out to them and ask for help. “Old-Timers” love being of service, and it is what keeps this alcoholic sober. I would strongly recommend that if your mind is like a dangerous neighborhood, never go in there alone.