by Reese Daniel, Retired COO of Eagle Overlook Recovery for Adolescents, Community Advocate
“Nobody told me there’d be days like these, Strange days indeed.” John Lennon
Every cell of my body was wracked with pain from the narcotics. I was 25 and had just experienced a major overdose, been discharged from the hospital and went out and did the same drugs again. I had to quit. I had lost everything again. I had tried to quit numerous times before. I had nothing left. And the worst part was, I knew that if I made it through that pain, a new one awaited me. How would I survive without the comfort of the drugs that had numbed my suffering since my early teens?
When I think back on the first months of my now decades-long recovery, I remember the vertigo-inducing confusion of free-fall. It was the end of the world as I knew it, to borrow a line from REM. Not only had the rug been pulled out from under me, but I was pretty sure that maybe the earth wasn’t even beneath the rug.
In the current pandemic, I can feel that uncertainty and fear raise its head again; and I see it in my friends and family members. We have reason to be alarmed. The dangers are real. But so is the hope.
So, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to share some of the well-worn wisdom of the tradition of those who led me into recovery. These practices help sustain me during hard times such as these. I hope they are a comfort to you as they have been and are to me.
Take one day at a time. We cannot know how long the job furloughs will last; how long we will have to social distance/shelter in place. But we can take it moment by moment and do our best to be present with ourselves and each other. By focusing on what is happening right now, we can avoid allowing ourselves to get stuck in falsehoods of how “this is never going to end” or “we can’t take it.”
Plan your time. With more time on your hands, you may be tempted to overeat, consume too much social media or news coverage. Set some limits and honor them. Stop watching so much news and TV and get out (if you can) and focus on the activities you can do. Be Creative. Play some games. Take a walk.
Ask for help. These are tough times. The virus is difficult enough but add to it the painful disruption in our ability to connect. Families are grieving the loss of loved ones without the comfort of a hug from families at a funeral. Students are missing proms and graduations. It’s okay to be anxious and afraid and to ask for help. Remember others are probably going through similar feelings. You are not alone. If you are feeling desperate, make use of the professional help available through crisis hotlines.
Help others. “When anyone anywhere reaches out… we want to be there; And for that I am responsible.” It is a great mystery of the universe, proven time and again: It is hard to think of myself when I am thinking of others. Reach out/ call a family member or a friend that you can’t see right now. Can you sew masks? Make a financial gift? Donate blood or plasma?
Put your faith to work. When the pressure is on, we see our human tendency to operate out of fear rather than faith. Nurture faith and practice being what you want to be. If I want peace, I have to do certain things that get me there. Most faith traditions are rich with stories of faith and hope and love, which can remind us of our shared humanity and ability to overcome hard times together.
Focus on what you can do. A friend at No Longer Bound tells how as an air traffic controller, he would walk in and see all the air traffic on the radar and be overwhelmed. But once he sat down and focused on what he could control, he could move forward and help keep the air safe by just doing what he was tasked to do. Problems can be too big to tackle if you look at things beyond your realm of influence.
Be kind. Just the way the Coronavirus is contagious, emotions can be too. Even before this pandemic, we called it “going viral.” Encourage people. Laugh and be patient with those around you.
When I was new to recovery, a handful of people became heroes to me and literally saved my life. They helped me to see beyond my current pain and to believe that I could get through the withdrawal and the difficult things life was sure to throw my way. I am honored to be part of a circle – that though we gather virtually now – continues to teach me to hold on to hope.
To close, I want to express my thanks to the very heroic healthcare workers including nurses, doctors, dietary staff, housekeeping, as well as teachers, truckers, grocery workers and the brave people who postponed milestone life events, regular routines and are staying home to help save lives. In the battle to defeat this virus, we all play a part. Never has the United Way’s “Live United” been more relevant. Stay safe. Stay connected. Reach out.