'Humans are the only creature in this world, who cut the trees, make paper from it and then write, “Save Trees” on it.'

Many of us are in isolation or on our own right now and we are being tested. In recovery, we’ve attended support groups, taken on volunteering roles and built new lives based on connection with other people, but for the time being that real-life human contact has been largely taken away. Stuck indoors we may find that old thinking patterns and addictive tendencies resurface. With fewer distractions and less perspective from being out and about in the world, we may find ourselves face to face with the most challenging aspects of ourselves. Meanwhile we may be dealing with a lot of fear - fear for our health, fear of uncertainty, fear of being alone.

But hard as this all may be, there is something we need to remember… 

We were made for this. 

We are the ones who have already experienced what it is like to have comfort and familiarity stripped away. When we gave up our drug of choice and went through withdrawal, we showed we could confront all the feelings we had pushed down for so long. We found the courage to deal with the things we’d been trying to avoid; the willingness to face up to the difficult parts of our personalities, the damage we may have caused, the hardships we’d endured. We discovered resources we didn’t know we possessed, we achieved things we couldn’t have known were possible.

Could it be now that the world is going through its own recovery?

For a long time now, society (especially in the West) has lived in a state of addiction. Addicted to clothes, tech, junk food, booze, fashion, celebrity and social media. Addicted to distraction in any available form - a culture that needs to always do, do, do. A constant desire for ‘stuff’ in all shapes and forms that is plundering the planet of its vital resources. A way of living that is driven by external goals and leaves little time and space to connect to the quiet guidance of our inner voices.

And perhaps now, in the guise of Corona Virus, the world is fighting back. Reminding us that we are not as in control of things as we would like to believe; reminding us that we cannot keep taking; reminding us that our lives are fragile and precious; reminding us that however much we wall ourselves up in small separate spaces, however much we revere our individual freedom and independence. The truth is we are undeniably, inescapably interconnected. A global virus affects everyone - rich and poor, young and old, prime minister or street sleeper.

As recovering addicts haven’t we already learnt this lesson? Through hard-won experience, aren’t we already somehow ahead of the game?

Addiction is characterized by the belief we are on our own - we are separate selves, forced to forge our way through life best as we can in a world that seems to be against us. We take drugs or drink so we can numb the pain of being on our own, so we can mask our flawed selves and get by as best we can. Recovery teaches us that we cannot get by on our own - that we need the guidance of other people, the connection with other human beings to be happy, functioning humans. It teaches us the very same lesson the world is teaching us now - we are part of something much bigger than our isolated, individual selves.

But what to do when we’re stuck at home without access to this human contact that’s come to sustain us? How can we draw on the learning of our recoveries to navigate our way through this?

Maintain a structure: even if we’re at home on our own we can still (and should) maintain a structure to our day. Waking up at a regular time, showering and putting on clean clothes, regular mealtimes and bedtimes - all these will help us to keep a sense of balance. If we can, taking a walk, cycle or jog each day will help enlarge our perspective, as well as giving us some exercise.

Connect however we can: while online communication is never going to be a replacement for face-to-face, we are lucky to be in a time where there are so many ways we can communicate - be it messaging, emailing, social media or even video calls. If we don’t have the internet (and even if we do), a phone call can make all the difference. Be sure to speak to at least one or two people a day. Be honest about how you’re feeling with people you can trust. Equally, contact other people and find out how they are doing. It will make them feel cared about, but it will make you feel good too.

Make a list: Write down a couple of things a day you’d like to achieve - whether it’s something you’ve been meaning to fix for ages, a cupboard you want to clear out or a person you want to make contact with. If there’s something creative you’ve been waiting to find the time to do - drawing, writing, playing an instrument, map in some time for it each day. We all feel good when we’ve achieved something.

Keep it in the moment: it’s when we start to think about how long this is going to last - how will we cope for weeks/months etc, that things start to spiral out of control. If you find this happening, come back to this moment. Take a few deep breaths. Feel yourself here right now - safe and okay.

Feel the feelings: emotions such as fear can be intense and overwhelming at times but it’s the stories that go along with them that are really the problem. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a feeling take a moment to stop and feel the physical sensation of it in your body. Take a few deep breaths. Recognize that all emotions are energy passing through us - remind yourself of the saying ‘this too shall pass’.

Be kind: if you find yourself struggling, if you’re not thinking or behaving in the way you would like to be, give yourself a break. Seriously, give yourself a break. These are exceptional times and we are all doing the best we can. If it’s hard to be kind to yourself, imagine what advice you’d give to a friend in the same situation. Pick up the phone and reach out for help if you need to.

Rest and replenish: while we don’t know how long this time of isolation will go on for, it will come to an end. Take the opportunity to rest in whatever way works best for you. Try a guided meditation, an online yoga class, watch a good movie. As recovering addicts, we haven’t always been great at looking after ourselves. Use this time to practice. Allow yourself the space to plan and dream for what comes next. 

Finally, remember that however, alone you are feeling and while we might be physically separated at this time, we are still connected. Every time you struggle, know that someone else out there is feeling or has felt the same as you. Equally when you have something helpful to share, reach out in the knowledge you have the power to positively impact someone else’s life and show them they are not on their own.

You’ve got this. We’ve got you. We’ve all got each other. This is what it means to be in recovery - this is what it means to be human.


With love,

Anna Rooke

Yoga teacher and former BoB volunteer