The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the will and endurance of everyone, now that everyone must bunker together, and socially distance themselves from all other loved ones. For those who depend on the support of communities like 12-step programs, the pandemic creates the ripest of conditions for despair and relapse.
As a recovering alcoholic and co-dependent, I can say that strength and hope is possible during the coronavirus pandemic and social isolation. Ever since my home state of California went on lockdown at the beginning of March, I have dilligently — although not always perfectly! — worked my program, and have not touched the bottle, despite its availability in my home.
I attribute this miracle to the program itself as well as the support of my communities, which meet regularly via Zoom. But what does it mean to “work a program” during COVID-19? For the last six weeks or so I have found myself doing the following:
1) Revisiting literature as if I were on Step One. I read Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions and Concepts every week for my meeting. I revisit spiritual texts for serenity such as the Bible, the Koran, and Buddhist writers such as Thich Nhat Hanh. I frequently watch YouTube videos of recovered alcoholics such as Brene Brown and Jesuit priest Tom Weston. I appreciate prayers and other spiritual insights that family and friends post on their social media channels.
2) I exercise every single day. And I am not talking just a walk. I jog five miles or ride my bike for 28 miles, including hills. Cardio exercise and sweating allows for me to calm my nervous system, gives me energy, and improves my sleep.
3) I take medication. I used to bristle at having to take anti-depressants. But when I have tried to wean myself off of them — even under the guidance of a doctor — it has completely blown up in my face. I lash out at people. I can’t sleep. I fall into crying fits. I am a much better person when I take my meds. I attribute this change in attitude to working my program.
4) I am present for people. Except for essential workers — and I am so very grateful to each and every one of them — most people have had to slow down, and unfortunately, many have been furloughed or fired altogether. As someone who is a part-time contractor always hustling for more work, my heart goes out to all who are unemployed or underemployed. However, since we are home and have more time, the pandemic serves as an opportunity to cook at home, and connect with family. The quarantine serves as an opportunity to reach out to loved ones, especially those who are suffering. If you participate in a 12-step program, please add your name to the call list!
5) I rely on my emergency call list. Unlike the pre-program me, I was prepared this time. In anticipation of social isolation, I crafted a list of people to call whenever I felt lonely. To my delight, I have found that list growing as people have reached out to me as well. What a blessing.
6) I attend meetings online, and stick with them. I never schedule anything during my standing weekly Al-Anon meeting. I also participate in virtual yoga once a week with my spiritual community. Some of my other groups, like a book club, also take place via Zoom — although those meetings occur monthly.
7) I am frequently seeking recommendations. Whether someone is participating in a 12-step program or not, I find myself asking them what they are watching on Netflix or reading. I have received some great recommendations that, admittedly, have kept me up until 1 a.m. binge-watching!
8) I pray every day. For me, prayer is a ritual, in which I light a candle or incense sticks and set intentions for people. I pray for friends and friends of friends who are sick, or have left us in the flesh. While I am stretching on my yoga mat, I thank God for all that I have, and for my health.
9) I lay the groundwork for the future. While our governor has responsibly not given a date to lift stay-at-home orders, intellectually, I know that the coronavirus pandemic will not last forever. I have used this time to apply and interview for some full-time jobs, and at the same time, am consulting, writing and building a website. I am exploring all of my career options.
10) I am constantly asking myself what I need. Whenever I feel sadness or joy, I lean in to those emotions. If despairing, I immediately stop what I am doing to take deep breaths, and focus on my belly rising and falling. I scan my body, and identify the source of any tension. I then take action to release the tension, whether it is a nap, workout, or phoning a friend. If I feel joy, I take it in, and make a mental note to continue the activity.
I am currently single, and while I am in regular (phone) contact with one gentleman, I am not actively dating for obvious reasons. However, in working my program, I am working on myself, and know that this will make me a better partner in the future. For that, I am so very grateful to God and for my program.
What say you? What has brought you peace, serenity and joy during this time?