Wake up, coffee, news, shower, get dressed, walk the dogs. Work on computer, eat, walk the dogs, eat. Check the news, FaceTime family, eat, walk the dogs. Watch a movie with the family, go to sleep and repeat!
Is this Groundhogs day? Living the same day - day in and day out? It is for many when there is a pandemic in the world and you are instructed to 'Shelter in Place'. Finding balance is an ongoing process during this time of isolation and especially as a recovering alcoholic.
On May 8, 2020, God willing, I will have been sober for 5 years with not a drop of alcohol in my system. This was a feat I could not have ever imagined possible the very first day I asked for help, surrendered to the madness and began my life in sobriety. Unbeknownst to me, like so many other alcoholics, I was not special in my hopelessness of wanting to live, yet wanting to die. It was a vicious, cruel, selfish dark hole I was living in.
The only way I was able to sustain my sobriety over the years, goes against everything I am living during this time of isolation. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) which had never been a common phrase in the English language, has now become an all too familiar term in every home, and conversation in the world. I was told in sobriety to stay in the middle of the herd, so I did. Go to meetings, reach out and help another struggling alcoholic, pray, meditate and more - so I did.
Yet, in the last 2 weeks, myself along with the rest of the entire world has been instructed to stay inside. Self-isolate, no social gatherings and stay 6-feet apart. For an alcoholic, this breeds fear, as isolation for most of us nearly killed us. We all came to realize that alcohol wanted to get us alone and kill us. And that is where we found ourselves headed when we finally got help from other recovering alcoholics.
Thankfully, I still remember, clear as day, how I used to handle my anxiety which was drinking and the awful feelings that followed. The unbearable hangovers that would take me a couple of days to recover from, nursing myself back, not to health per se, but to the point of being able to talk myself into another drink. Hour by hour my mind would banter back and forth "I need to stop drinking, I am killing myself," to "Just one more day of drinking and then you can stop." As the 24 or 48 hours would pass, my mind would convince me it was okay to resume. I would repeat the same destructive pattern over and over. One drink after another, whether it was wine or vodka tonics it didn’t really matter. Day after day, would turn into weeks, then months and eventually into years. My life was literally revolving around this 'liquid'. If it would help me numb out, I’d want to drink it. Examining my past, I can recognize that when I'd drink, I clearly was in my own little bubble, focused always on getting my next drink.
How fast was I drinking? Was it noticeable? Do I have enough alcohol to get me through the evening? Do I need to go to the store to load up? Can my kids notice how much I've had? If I put my drink in a water bottle with vodka, no one will know I'm having another drink.
Always in the background of my days, I was using it in avoidance of any true solutions, which only exasperated my anxiety and fears.
I would drink mostly in the evenings when the hustle and bustle of the day would quiet and my fears and anxiety would grow. My frustrations from the day, pressures, failures even happy moments all needed to be accompanied by alcohol near the end of my drinking career. I couldn’t handle any emotion without a drink.
I found myself more and more isolated from the world. Having time on my hands in my thoughts was a dangerous place for me to be in and yet, that is what so many alcoholics are facing right now day after day with the orders to Shelter in Place.
How are my friends in my fellowship fairing? Have many relapsed? If so, will they be able to make it back? My thoughts go down this road and of course I wonder about myself and know that I can't kid myself during this time. I must lean on my toolbox of wisdom that has helped me live a life free of alcohol for nearly 5 years.
Still, my mind wanders hour by hour, knowing so many recovering alcoholics needed help and received help several times a day to keep sober. What will happen to the establishments that hold our meetings without any dues coming in? These are some scary and frightening thoughts. It has taken tremendous strength for each of us to stay in continued sobriety and I worry and pray for us all that we can get through this sober. It takes work, and I've learned the minute you think you have it licked - that’s when you’re in deep trouble again - in jeopardy of relapse.
In sobriety, I slowly came to realize and have had to focus on continued discipline, to nourish my body, my mind and my spirit with exercise, relationships, meetings, work and God. It has been a constant balancing act and it is a constant work in progress. I'm not sure, if after 5 years into my sobriety, I’ve ever been in complete and total balance - EVER. I know this will always be a challenge of mine to strive to accomplish for the rest of my life.
Now that life has literally been put on pause, I have a lump in my throat knowing everything has come to a halt and for an undetermined amount of time. No meetings down the street, no coffee dates with friends, no hugs with friends in my fellowship etc. Nope, I’m at home, except for the quick jaunts to the grocery store, some walks with the dogs and even then people need to be 6’ apart.
At this point, I feel lucky, yes truly lucky, that the thought of drinking hasn’t crossed my mind ‘yet’. And I say ‘yet’ because I’ve heard the story all too many times of other alcoholics who just decided one day it was a good idea to pick up and resume drinking again, only for their drinking to take off exactly where they left off. And that thought frightens me! Many, in my disease, sadly will use this crisis as a reason to drink, just as many use any crisis all too often, like death, to drink. It is a disease of the mind which tells us we don’t have a disease and it's okay to drink. Yes, it's a disease of the mind, and it's really not at all about the alcohol. Our mind tells us alcohol is the solution, and our mind tells us: you're so sad you "need a drink and it will make you feel better," or when it's a celebration "you deserve a drink," "you can handle it." And for many this crisis is the perfect combination of events for your mind to reason with you to indulge in some cocktails. "What harm can it do?" "You're at home anyways, no one will even know."
Restaurants in my neighborhood are offering ‘Take Home Mimosas’ or Margaritas. Instagram is flooded with local restaurants hash tagging #daydrinking, #brunchcocktails, #cocktails, #bloodymarys, #mimosas, #ramosfizz, #sangria, #tequilasunrise and more. Instagram stories show people toasting with cocktails and social distancing between neighbors yards just close enough, yet 6' apart, to talk and share in a Happy Hours together. Many are treating this as a holiday and a time to kick back, relax and have some drinks. Why not? Right? If I wasn’t an alcoholic I’d do the same, but deep inside I know there are plenty of us watching this and thinking "you know what? I’m going to have a drink!" Which will turn into drink after drink after drink. And when this whole thing is said and done they will have thrown their whole life away over self-isolation and Shelter in Place orders.
I am one of 'them' so I can't EVER entertain the thought. I have to remember why my meetings were a life saver. My meetings would remind me, by listening to others' stories of their experiences, strength and hope, and the ugly side of my disease that all of us alcoholics like to forget. It would bring me right back to how I felt the day I finally waved the white flag and said "I need help," "I can't do this anymore." I have to remember how hopeless and worn out I felt, telling my feet to walk to the car and drive myself to a meeting. The shame day after day at my behavior, things I had said or had no memory of. The list could go on. I never want to feel like that again. And my meetings magnified my memory of the first day of sobriety and that is absolutely critical to keep me humbled with the power of my disease. I am just one drink away from throwing my entire life away again.
Many of us in recovery have learned, 'the opposite of addiction is connection,' so what happens when the struggle is real and connection is difficult with the Shelter in Place orders? It may seem that the world is frozen in time, but behind the walls and under the roofs of so many homes, people have found incredible ways to stay connected with the outside world, keeping them in the middle of the herd. Bringing fellowships together, yes on a screen of our computers, but it works and it's effective.
One of the main ways many of us in recovery have been able to connect is through the Zoom video conferencing app. Almost immediately after the announcement of Shelter in Place orders, Zoom meetings were in the works. It has come to the rescue not only for me but for millions of others in bringing meetings right into our living rooms. Visually seeing familiar faces and talking to people in your fellowship, laughing, sharing about anxieties and fears seems to put them at bay for a little - just as if we had attended a meeting in-person. Keeping in contact with family and friends is just as important to your well-being. My best friend organized her entire family on her phone with everyone FaceTiming and I mean everyone! I’ve FaceTimed my kids, I’ve even seen friends viewing church services on their sofa's while eating brunch at home. Anyone on the internet can watch and follow others that are sharing in workout classes. And many others are sharing interesting tips! I myself have been sharing in some inexpensive, easy recipes to make while holed up in our homes. (Check out my Egg Drop Soup Recipe and Easy Bean Salad)
Through many suggestions and tips, people are finding ways to keep connected with each other. They are sharing information and inspiration. Some are transforming in ways they hadn’t before this crisis. Some are connecting with family more than ever before. I even witnessed an olive branch being extended from one friend to another that hadn’t spoken in over a year, but she saw this as a time to come together and put aside the insignificant problems of yesterday. People who hadn’t exercised in years are now out walking to get some fresh air and making that a priority. Our very own Blogger, Samantha Cornelison, wrote a great article on "How to Stay Active During Social Distancing." Dogs are getting in more walks, families are communicating more, and overall, the immense and overwhelming love for humanity through this unbelievable crisis prevails.
Although this is a difficult time for me, just as it is for everyone, this time has made me more resolved and determined in my sobriety. It is a great challenge for me to reach into my tool box that I have acquired over the years and lean on my faith more than ever, knowing in the big picture, I am not in control. It’s a great time for me to get outside of myself and reach out to someone else who is not doing so well. And, this to me is what life is actually truly about. Not just in recovery, but in all aspects of my life. This morning I found myself helping another person and reminding them to just take things one day at a time and to try and stay in the present. Good advice for me as well!
I remember a wonderful dear friend of mine who was passing away about 5 years ago early in my sobriety. She had only weeks left to live and she herself was a recovering alcoholic. Her name was Lynda. I said, "Lynda, knowing you are going to die, do you think about having a drink?" And her reply was one that I have never forgotten. She replied, “No, recovery has given me peace and serenity and I want that until the day I die.” I think of Lynda, God rest her soul, during this pandemic. Yes, it is a frightening time to say the least, but it doesn’t mean I need to drink. Drinking will surely bring me more anxiety and fear. In sobriety, I now have that serenity here and there that Lynda spoke of, and I understand it and I want to keep it when I have it. And Lynda's last words to me on that final visit I had with her, are making more sense with each passing year I am sober.
The balancing act during this pandemic has ebbed and flowed for me as I try to find my new normal in this crisis. I’ve had days of eating very clean, (yes, a pat on the back!) and days of eating out of anxiousness. Guacamole, brownies, cookies and homemade cool whip, to name a few, have gone down pretty easily. I’ve had days with too much time on the internet and too much time watching the news, and I’ve had days of wonderful walks with my sister and the dogs. I'm probably not the first casualty of trying to dye my hair my favorite blonde tone at home (I look like Gwen Stefani now, and that is said not in a good sense). And I have now bought boxed hair color online to fix the casualty (trying a rose gold to cover up the bleach blonde). Gel removers, now that we can’t go to our local nail salons, and trying to track down my favorite face cream and makeup online in hopes they will be delivered before I run out! Such insignificant problems, I know. Sounds very shallow as I write this. And believe me when I say, I am humbled by the fact that I am healthy and my family and friends are healthy, while others are suffering so terribly. It is my way of trying to keep things normal in chaos as shallow as it sounds and yet, it kind of feels nice to get back to the basics in life. Maybe I don't 'need' to color my hair, and I can paint my own nails like I did for years and why do I even need makeup if I'm just at home anyways? I can give it all a break and save some much needed money in the end. I am trying. I can’t expect perfection - no, that perfectionism is another ‘ism’ I have to constantly fight. But I can give things a good, honest try at being healthy, stable and serene, and keeping my attitude in check.
Yes, serenity is what I’m striving for in life these days. I don’t know what a full life of serenity feels like, but I have more moments of it now during a time that should be completely the opposite. There truly are gifts we can notice and absorb during this difficult time and we can make some intentional changes to create more light in our lives than darkness. I can look to see all the good taking place around the world. The heroes on the front lines, the neighborly and family love, and the unending acts of kindness.
Today when I reflect on my life sitting at home, I am just so grateful for my family and friends who have stuck around and lifted me up when I couldn’t pull myself up on my own. Being apart of this 'shut down' across the world, I have my own observations. I see a quiet humbling of communities going on right now and in the world, and in some small respects it's not ALL bad. A pause button has been hit, for all the hustle and bustle that we called the ‘rat race’. I was tired and the break comes as a much needed rest. Whether you like it or not, we are having to get back to some fundamentals and concentrate on simple activities and simplifying some of the most essential aspects of our life, which brings nourishment and gifts in subtle ways. Amongst the concern, confusion and fear of the future we have also been forced to slow down and smell the roses as they say and tell our loved ones what they mean to us. It is when we see such incredible loss of human life around us and on T.V. that we realize how precious and fleeting life truly is. Our eyes seem to open wide to who and what means the most in the world to us and we quickly realize every moment matters and life is short.
I hope in this time of reflection, for so many, you focus on trying to keep a sense of normalcy for your well-being by having plans and routines in place to maintain your mental health while practicing social distancing. Healthy distractions I've found are not only good for us alcoholics but, for anyone in self-isolation. Here is a list I've made to help you during this time of Shelter in Place orders for the greater good of all humans. These are just a few of my ideas and thoughts to keep your days more interesting and healthier.
TIPS FOR SURVIVING AND WORKING DURING SOCIAL DISTANCING
*Make a plan/schedule for the day and stick to it.
*Take a hot/cold shower: A hot/cold shower, also known as a contrast shower can be
extremely relaxing to your mind and body. Start with a hot shower followed by a cold
shower and repeat.
*Try some hot tea, incense, or do some journaling. Sacred Lotus Love carries tea
tumblers perfect for loose leaf tea, fresh ground or cold brew coffee, fruit infusions,
smoothies and crystal water, wonderful incense and beautiful journals!
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*Reach out to others to let them know you care and you love them.
*Creating designated spaces for your routine is necessary to keep a sense of balance in your home.
*Create a place to work, create a place to eat (preferably at the table and not in front of
the T.V.), create a place to meditate (Four Steps to Meditation for Beginners. Love, A Beginner by our Blogger, Ashley DeMarzo, is a great read!) or do yoga and create your place to work out.
*Create a desk that is at the correct height so your elbows are at about 90 degrees,
arms and shoulders should be very relaxed to avoid discomfort.
*Work sitting in a chair or a barstool rather than the sofa or bed. It will save you back.
*Don’t put your laptop on your lap. Your laptop should be elevated approximately 6 to
12 inches above your desk. Try using books to get to the correct height. Using a wireless keyboard and mouse will assure that you keep your arms and elbows at 90 degrees.
*Take 5 minute breaks to walk around and stretch every hour.
*Keep your bedroom a place to sleep and shut down.
*Read a book to shut off your brain and keep your computer and phone outside of the
*Make sure to practice self-love (hot baths: try adding 2 to 3 cups of epsom salts to your bath. Salt water baths have immense benefits especially when it comes to stress relief and relaxation. This is because, salt water baths helps your body absorb magnesium and magnesium helps lower blood pressure, improve circulation, relieve cramps, relieve headaches and improve sleep quality. Make yourself a hot cup of tea, put on a face mask or hair mask, paint your toes and fingernails, and soak your feet in hot water.
*Change up your environment by cutting some flowers for your table. Bringing nature into your home while in self-isolation has never been more important.
*Pick up a new hobby: painting art lessons, learning a new instrument (I just bought a ukulele), baking or trying a new recipe, spend time dog training (some fun for both you and your dog), photography, gardening (a good way to get your Vitamin D), build your own beehive, crochet, knitting, get out your boxes of photos and start scrapbooking, learn origami, learn a new language online, start a blog, listen to podcasts on subjects that interest you, try your hand at calligraphy, learn how to embroider or cross-stitch.
*Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala. It induces the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. This generates mindfulness and quietness, which allows your mind to get some rest after a long day at work.
*Play some fun board games: They also help bring back the carefree childhood memories.
*Try exercising: running, walking, weights at home, stretching, hula hoop.
*Do deep abdominal breathing: Take a few minutes to breath deeply and consciously. Place your hand on your belly and make sure that your belly rises. While inhaling, think of all your stress filling your lungs up with life energy and hold for a few seconds before exhaling. While exhaling, let it all flow out of your body.
*Write down your worries: Writing down all of your worries and anxieties and concerns can be extremely cathartic. When your brain is filled with worries, write them down. Let go and let the paper deal with them. You will feel lighter in your mind and it helps to alleviate the anxiety attached to them.
*Create a 'Dream Board' or 'Vision Board'.
Technology has come to the rescue during this social distancing period!
Here are some apps to use at home:
Zoom: Stay connected with family and friends. Instant screen sharing offers quality video, audio, and a wireless screen-sharing performance.
12 Steps AA Companion App
AA Big Book Ultimate App
AA Speakers To Go App
I Am Sober App
Sober Living App
Recovery Toolkit App
Twenty-Four Hours A Day App
Joe And Charlie Big Book Study App
Sober Grid App
Gratitude Happiness Journal App: Self-Care and Self-Affirmations
Hygge App: This app helps to remember that in our life there are small pleasures that brings the true moments of happiness. Practice a hyggle activity every day, and be happy!
Give Yourself A Break App: Time Out reminds you to take a breather
Calm App: Meditation
Nike App Training Club: 185 free Workouts
Headspace App: An app like Headspace will lead you through guided meditations
while others will give you prompts to help you think about all of the things you’re grateful for
Mindscape App is a free voice app to combat anxiety and isolation
Moodrise App is a new wellness app that uses positive content to boost emotional
resilience, with a focus on six popular mood states, including confidence and happiness
Quarantine Together App, The app is text-based. Every day at 6 p.m., the app asks its
registered users whether they washed their hands. If they say yes, they are introduced to another user by text. After 15 minutes, the matched users will be offered a link to video chat.
So, remember, even though the world has been put on pause, and we are told to self-isolate, it doesn’t mean you can’t have connection with your loved ones, peers and mentors. You are not alone and we can do this if we all help each other. And above all, it is not a reason to drink. Even though it’s tempting to drink your worries away, there are much better ways of managing your stress! And, just a side note, think of all the money you will save! People have been buying pallets of wine, stocking up. Wine is the now the new toilet paper! So save your life and save your money, alcohol is not the answer.
I wish everyone health and want to send continued prayers to those whom have lost their lives, those struggling to save their lives, all those on the front lines and those affected from the crash of our economy, and lastly to those who feel scared and alone - I am sending you love right now.
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