This is a new series of 'Sober Lockdown Stories' featuring people with any length of sobriety sharing how they're keeping themselves well during the global pandemic crisis.
Today's sober hero is Suzy who lives in Point Chevalier, Auckland.
Mrs D: How are you feeling about what's going on with this COVID-19 virus?
Suzy: I’ve been experiencing a range of feelings since this began. Powerlessness. Loss and love. Joy and sorrow. Gratitude for the brilliant leadership we have in thiscountry. Sadness. Happiness. The vulnerability of being 70 plus. The wonderful thing is we are all in this Covid-19 pandemic together. It’s a ‘we’ thing. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ any more. It’s us. And that awareness and acceptance generates empathy and compassion. We are not alone.
Mrs D: How have your emotions shifted and changed since the crisis began?
Suzy: Emotions are always shifting. That’s how they roll. Like the tides and the seasons. They come. They go. The potential for heightened anxiety and fear is ever present. There’s something contagious about those emotions and I need to be mindful not to feed them and get swept away in a swirl of adrenaline. In the spirit of self-care I’ve made a point of not watching mainstream news. The repetitive nature of how it’s delivered causes me anxiety. There are other more responsible and considered sources that don’t need to sell fear to sell advertising. That’s where I go to check in a couple of times a day and stay informed. I’m not on social media either. Being who I am I get hooked easily into the ‘just one more’ of the check and scroll. Of ‘what’s happening now’. All that does is pour petrol onto the flickering flames of fear and anxiety. I’m powerless over COVID-19 and other people, however I’m not powerless over my relationship with myself. It’s important to become my own best friend and not divorce myself from what I’m feeling in an unskilful attempt to be in control. As long as I’m aware and can acknowledge the emotions and take tender care of them as they arrive and depart, I don’t get overwhelmed. Sharing with others helps.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Suzy: I’ve been in recovery since February 14 1987.
Mrs D: How is being sober helping you at this crazy time?
Suzy: Being in recovery helps enormously. I don’t know for sure what I’d be feeling and behaving if I was still using alcohol and other drugs. I can imagine and the scenario is not pretty. I can still remember the desperation and isolation I felt before I stopped. And being in lockdown would multiply all of that. I’d be doing my best to pour and inhale my way into trying to keep one step ahead of the feelings and it would not be a good look. The old ways of surviving, the resourcefulness needed to keep going against all odds, and the transferable skills and tools needed to get into and maintain recovery serve me well today. They serve me well to navigate every day. And we only have this day right? My recovery path is 12-step and we can’t currently meet face to face to support each other be well. Blessedly I’m able to access online meetings via Zoom. It’s amazing. Even though we don’t have eye contact the connection is strong. And it has massively increased my sense of wellbeing and circle of support as I see and hear people from all parts of the world share their recovery stories. We are not alone.
Mrs D: Have you had any pangs to drink since the lockdown began?
Suzy: Yes I’ve had a pang or two. Just a moment here and there of ‘I wish I still drank red wine or smoked weed or cigarettes’. That happens though anytime and it’s natural. It doesn’t disturb me and I tell on myself to my friends who are on the same recovery path and they identify and we have a laugh. I don’t need to get all twisted about it. I’ve had a using dream recently which is the first in a very long time. Natural for that to emerge during this extraordinary time.
Mrs D: Any particular self-care actions that are helping you in these gritty times?
Suzy: I need structure and have a simple routine which I’ve maintained for many years. I say a wee prayer when I get out of bed in the morning. Make coffee then back to bed to do a daily reading (Each Day a New Beginning – a lovely Hazelden book especially for women in recovery) then I write myself right. I learned to do this from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists Way. Reflecting on yesterday and looking at what I want and need today. I do this every day as a spiritual practice. I’ve been doing an online meeting in the evenings then watching something funny. I’ve been re-watching ‘Man Down’ and I really enjoy ‘Would I Lie to You’. They are so funny and clever. And as I said above, no watching mainstream news or social media or mad checking on my phone. Addiction manifests in many ways and one of its core characteristics is obsession. The constant checking and scrolling is a hook and next minute I’m feeling stressed and empty. It’s easier for me not to go there at all. As with alcohol and other drugs – it’s easier for me to have none than one. I’m grateful for my sponsor teaching me by example to take my recovery seriously and not to take myself seriously. Such brilliant and sanity restoring guidance. Before bed I swap a gratitude list with a friend via messenger – five things we’re grateful for.
Mrs D: What are you doing to fill in the days?
Suzy: It’s a challenge some days because I have a habit of ‘busying’. A human doing rather than a human being. I want to take this opportunity to simplify my life. My goal is to slow down and appreciate the little things. I eat regular meals and am enjoying cooking every day. I made a decision not to eat any crap during the lockdown to support my physical , emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing. I keep it really simple and follow the ‘if my great grand-mother wouldn’t recognise it as food then don’t eat it’ guideline. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to do some work from home. I’m a contractor which means I get to choose how many hours I spend at the computer. I decided to not begin working until 10.00am and to finish by 3.00pm which feels spacious. And I can wear my trackpants. I’m in daily contact of some sort with family members and I do some service each day. Checking in with the women I support really helps. Self-centeredness is at the core of addiction/dependence (call it what you will) and reaching out a hand and/or listening to others reduces the focus of ‘me me me’ and puts things in perspective. Talking and listening helps people heal. I go for a leisurely walk twice a day, do a guided meditation most days and get some rest in the afternoons.
Mrs D: What would you say to people who are struggling with alcohol while they're in lockdown?
Suzy: Well it could be seen as the perfect excuse to have a few wines every day or whatever. I totally get that. And it’s natural to want to go there. Important though to remember alcohol is a depressant. And it can give the illusion of taking care of fear and anxiety at the same time as compounding them. It’s a tricky drug. Having the thoughts or cravings does not mean that you’re not doing well. My encouragement is to surrender the struggle and remember we all have a choice and can make the decision not to pick up today. And stay connected with other like-minded people who understand how it will be during these extraordinary times. Living Sober is perfect for that. And there are mutual aid meetings (AA and NA) available on Zoom for extra support and connection. They are easy to find via Google.
Mrs D: What's in this photo you've shared with us?
Suzy: In this photo is my Lockdown Styles Survival Guide. Beanie to cover regrowth. Uncut fringe to cover unruly brows. Sunglasses for physical distancing (some people seem to think the virus is transmitted via eye contact). Lipstick – For online meetings. Comfy tee shirt. Trackpants – yes please. Socks & sandals (classy). Cat for patting. Tea for drinking. And mask and gloves at the ready for the supermarket.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to add?
Suzy: Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience, strength and hope with the Living Sober people. We are in this together. I’ll finish with this excerpt from the reading on April 7. ‘Each day is a new beginning. Each moment is a new opportunity to let go of all that has trapped me in the past. I am free. In the present, I am free’.