It is official: we are all in collective trauma. There is really no point in being competitive about it, although, for economic reasons, many people are worse off than others. However, it is good to acknowledge that at this particular time, we are all threatened. Unfortunately, for many, this has become a platform to point out our various differences and how some of us have more monopoly on suffering—or alternatively preparedness—than others. I’ve seen people in on-line recovery groups posting memes about alcoholics being better prepared than non-alcoholics. (I’m talking about on-line AA groups, so I’m using the word “alcoholics” as that’s what people there refer to themselves as.) I’ve seen people pontificating about how they were better off because they had a Higher Power. I understand there’s a desire to convince ourselves that we are unique, and I think this desire stems from fear—I mean, if we tell the world that we are special, then maybe it’s true? But it’s not true, it’s an illusion. Sure, maybe having strong faith in Higher Power and belief in your own superpowers makes this ordeal a little less taxing, but make no mistake: we are all equally at risk here. We are all going through trauma. And for those reasons, we should be focusing on solutions, not the cause of the problem, or even the problem itself (we can’t come up with a vaccine on our own, so let’s leave it to the scientists).
People who are in active trauma can go through a variety of emotions and states. Many of those states are meant to protect us from further damage, but it’s important to recognize all of them and address them. You don’t want the trauma to linger, or worse, get more significant because you’re ignoring all the red flags. Some people dissociate and stay numb. Some people get angry and fearful (I’d venture those people sometimes post memes about the superiority of god-fearing folk). Some people get paralyzed and depressed. Almost all feel anxiety. And I would venture to say that even the ones who claim to be calm, and who are excited about the future, are suffering from a bit of denial. I think t’s impossible not to feel some anxiety as the world crumbles around us. Then there are those of us who are frontline workers who have no choice and are quite literally thrown into the world of this peculiar combat. They are doctors, nurses, paramedics, all the health workers, as well as all the other essential workers. People who don’t have much choice but to sacrifice their health (and in some cases their lives) to fight COVID-19. And amongst all of those people are the ones who are mentally vulnerable in the first place—people with addiction, psychological issues, and emotional damage.
This is why all of us should focus on coping and building resilience so that we can stay strong as we brace ourselves for possibly more disasters. For folks in recovery, this means attending on-line meetings, talking to sober friends, staying connected, and never giving ourselves permission to reach for a drink or drug because these are some kind of exceptional circumstances. Yes, they are, but nothing lasts forever, and you want your best self to emerge from this. If you feel like drinking or using, talk to someone immediately. Chances are they have felt that way and have some strategies to share, or if they haven’t had those thoughts, they could tell you what keeps them sane during this time. For me, it’s meditation, talking with friends, talking with my wife, staying connected. It’s reading good literature, following nourishing discussions, and engaging in new passions (such as studying the concept of Blue Mind).
And I try to stay away from bickering over whose recovery is better than others’ during this time. I don’t claim superiority to my friends who are not in recovery. I assume we are all struggling, and we could all use each other for support.
For now, here are a few more hopefully useful tips on how to deal with this on-going trauma:
- Exercise for 30 minutes or more. Whether at-home workouts or long, socially distant walks, exercise is one way to distract your thoughts.
- Try mindfulness. Focus on your body and how it feels as you move. Notice the sensations.
- Reach out to a meaningful friend each day. It keeps you visible and accountable.
- Stay connected. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook, phone… you know the drill. Nobody’s going anywhere! Get in touch.
- Join a support group. You don’t have to talk about what’s going on if it’s too hard, but when you’re finally ready, those people will be there for you.
- Do something meaningful. If you can, organize an on-line help for someone or something, get involved in a cause.
- Be kind to yourself. You are going through a lot. This is not the time to berate yourself or feel guilty. You’re doing the best you can. We all are.
Further strategies for mitigating the effects of COVID-19 can be found at COVID-19: Navigating a Pandemic –5 Articles to Help You Build Resilience.
About the Author
David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.
Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.