I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about how the Coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts people in recovery. Obviously, the public at large is worried right now. But, those of us who are either newly sober who have been sober for years, have a higher propensity for anxiety and other co-occurring mental health problems than the rest of the public. How do we cope with fear, anxiety, and a pandemic, and remain sober?
Many people in recovery have a dual diagnosis – meaning they are diagnosed with addiction and a mental health disorder (like depression, biopolar, OCD, etc.). We must treat both our addiction and our mental health for the rest of our lives. Staying sober, and learning to cope with depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern is not easy. But, when a pandemic (or another crisis) rolls around, life can be very challenging for us.
So, let’s talk about how we get through life’s challenges and remain physically and mentally sober. Because, if you’re like me, the Coronavirus has triggered your mental health. I suffer from anxiety, and am a self-proclaimed germaphobe. The whole world is panicking right now about COVID-19, but my friends who aren’t in recovery are better able to cope than I am. But that doesn’t mean I can’t cope or that you can’t cope. It simply means we may have to work a little harder on protecting our sobriety right now.
We all have stress triggers. Those triggers could be related to our addiction – like seeing a movie that shows drug use. But, we also face other triggers related to our jobs, finances, relationships, and other personal fears. Fear of illness is MY biggest trigger. If you are like me, COVID-19 is triggering your mental health, and potentially risking your sobriety.
Fear is uncomfortable, and drugs and alcohol could temporarily ease that fear. So, now is the time to be highly vigilant about maintaining sobriety. It’s also an opportunity (however unpleasant) to learn that to can walk through fear, and come out the other side mentally and physically sober.
In order to get through any highly stressful situation, we must flex our sobriety muscles. This is not a regular day at the gym where we do thirty minutes of cardio. Now, we go in and lift weights, do cardio, hydrate, and take a spin class. Let’s literally use every tool at our disposal to walk through COVID-19, and other triggering events.
A few tools that help me are:
Praying reminds me that I am NOT in control, God is. He is big enough to hold my fear and my anxiety. If I need to ask Him to help me deal with my fear of illness 14,000 times a day, I do it. And, I keep doing it, until the fear subsides.
If you have cravings to use because you find your fear to be overwhelming, prayer helps. Ask God to remove your obsession for using. It works, and you may have to pray for that 14,000 times a day sometimes, too. Do it! It works.
Thankfully, we all have different triggers. If COVID-19 frightens you, talk to someone (like a sponsor or a counselor) that can listen to you. Talking takes the power out of fear. Being heard helps too. And, your sober friends and your mental health counselor can tell you how to navigate your sobriety through trying times. Take advantage of their experience.
Exercise is a proven stress reliever. Social isolation doesn’t mean that you can’t do yoga, work out, or dance inside. When we exercise the body releases hormones that naturally calm us. If ever there was a time to experience a runner’s high, it’s now.
If you want to forget about your own fears and anxiety, HELP SOMEONE ELSE.
There is a magic that comes from helping others. For the time we are doing something positive for someone else, we forget ourselves. We temporarily forget our worries. And, when we are done, we have a sense of purpose and hope that no fear can squash.
Every time you want to up your sobriety game, help someone else. This is the king of all sobriety muscles. It alone can do more heavy lifting than anything else.
Ask any member of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous about the power of helping others. Helping others heals us. So, if your friend needs to talk, lend an ear. If you know someone that lives alone and is self-isolating through COVID-19 right now, call them to say hello. If your roommate is upset, stop what you’re doing, and ask how you can be of service.
COVID-19 may be your first huge stressor in sobriety. You can get through it. And, I’ve lived through enough enormous life stressors in sobriety to promise you this: Once you have tackled one, you begin to believe you can tackle the next. That doesn’t mean doing so is easy. It does mean one incredibly important thing though.
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING SOBER.
If you are struggling with addiction, we have two Atlanta locations. Please call us at (770) 493-7750 and ask how we can help you!