Navigating the ‘New Normal’: Making Recovery Work During a Pandemic
As we enter the third year of battling the COVID pandemic and having to readjust our lives, a lot of us may be starting (or continuing) to get agitated, stressed, and anxious. We may begin feeling like things will never get better and that we should just give up. It’s certainly not easy to reframe our entire way of life to navigate a pandemic while in recovery, especially when so much of a successful recovery is owed to constant connection and communication with support networks around us. However, while difficult, it is not impossible to be strong and healthy in your recovery no matter the world’s circumstances.
We can begin to fight our negative thoughts and desires to return to use by continuing to prioritize staying connected to others, whether virtually or in-person – but we also need to realize the effect our personal ways of thinking can either harm or help us on our journey to recovery. With constant work taking place both outside and within ourselves, recovery becomes much easier to manage.
“Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” – pg 417 of the Big Book
The oft spoken phrase around the rooms is “practice acceptance”. While it may sound trite, it is the key to serenity. Pushing against our reality, refusing to accept our reality, this is the source of much friction and unhappiness. However, that pushing, and that refusal is what comes most naturally to an addict or alcoholic. We must constantly remind ourselves of acceptance, and if necessary, repeat the phrase, “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today”.
In today’s world, it has become increasingly difficult to stay connected and avoid feelings of isolation. This has led to relapse and overdose for many of those in recovery who slowly begin to feel anxious, lonely, and unsupported over time, slipping back into familiar patterns of using to cope. We may recognize the importance of attending meetings and staying in touch with a sponsor, but when many meetings are happening online, it is easy to feel “Zoom fatigue” and simply stop attempting rather than adjusting and making virtual connection work for us.
It takes a little extra work on our part, but we must be willing to challenge our beliefs about online meetings. Continue participating and sharing in your meetings, even if they must be via computer screen for the time being. The meeting space is not only for you – you must be there to support the others in your recovery network.
When someone in recovery leaves treatment, they can sometimes find themselves on a “pink cloud” of euphoria: proud of what they have achieved, connected to a support network with a sponsor and daily meetings, and strong in their sobriety. After a while, some of us begin to feel that maybe we have our recovery under control. We might think we’ve achieved ‘fully recovered’ status and do not need to continue dedicating as much time to our recovery.
Coupled with the collective anxiety and isolation felt during a pandemic, it can become easy and comforting to convince ourselves that it would even be okay if we had a drink or two, after being in recovery for several months or years. However, one can never truly be ‘fully recovered’ – recovery is a constant process, and becoming overconfident leads to complacency, which can lead to relapse.
“If nothing changes, nothing changes”:
In the popular A.A. book As Bill Sees It, written by Bill Wilson, the argument is made that successful recovery is simply not possible unless we are willing to undergo a personality change. Wilson writes: “anyone who knows the alcoholic personality by firsthand contact knows that no true alky ever stops drinking permanently without undergoing a profound personality change.”
This means understanding that having supportive people around you is not enough – there needs to be a change inside of yourself as well. Wilson continues: “We thought “conditions” drove us to drink, and when we tried to correct these conditions and found that we couldn’t do so to our entire satisfaction, our drinking went out of hand, and we became alcoholics. It never occurred to us that we needed to change ourselves to meet conditions, whatever they were.”
Outside conditions may produce triggers and negative feelings, but we have to be willing to work to change our responses to these conditions, because remaining stagnant and leaving our mental health unchecked is an easy gateway into relapse.
In a pandemic society, the traditional post-treatment advice – go to meetings, keep in touch with your sponsor, give back to your community with service work – may sound harder to follow. However, there is always a way to keep pushing forward and make recovery work for you, no matter your outside circumstances. Resist becoming complacent in your recovery. Keep recovery at the forefront of your mind and know when to ask for help. Show up for those in your network that are experiencing the same struggles as you. Together, we will be able to make the ‘new normal’ work and ensure the successful recovery of us and those we care about.
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About Fellowship Hall
For 50 years, Fellowship Hall has been saving lives. We are a 99-bed, private, not-for-profit alcohol and drug treatment center located on 120 tranquil acres in Greensboro, N.C. We provide treatment and evidence-based programs built upon the Twelve-Step model of recovery. We have been accredited by The Joint Commission since 1974 as a specialty hospital and are a member of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. We are committed to providing exceptional, compassionate care to every individual we serve.