A Design for Living: Staying SOBER | Practices for a Pandemic

Avoid Relapse During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the increased fear and anxiety around the pandemic, the abrupt move to being homebound or the extra-long hours of essential workers, added to the disruption in our normal face-to-face 12-Step meetings, many of us are feeling shaky. You may, as I have, heard of people who have relapsed during this time. You may have even seen online news articles about the dire impact of the pandemic on those of us in recovery from addiction. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

Although relapse is a part of the story for some people, it doesn’t have to be part of your story. And, if relapse has already been a part of your story, it doesn’t have to be a part of your story today. The 12-Step practices are packed full of tools to help you right here and right now, no matter the circumstances.

Finding Structure Through the 12 Steps

One of the best and most basic things that the 12-Step practices offer us is a structure. Whether we realize it or not, we humans are creatures of habit. We do better when we have a structure that provides us parameters for our daily lives. The founders of AA knew that early on and wrote quite clearly about ‘a design for living’ that is described in pages 86-88 of the third edition of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The elements described include…

A Period of Quiet Time in the Morning, Soon After Waking Up

For many of us, this involves our morning coffee or tea, a meditation book of some type, perhaps journal writing or creative art, and some form of prayer or meditation. Some of us can’t sit still and find this quiet time better done with movement, such as a walk or a run. Whichever way you do it, the focus is on getting centered for the day. For those of us in recovery, that means starting with remembering who we are. A wonderful shorthand for the first three Steps is “I can’t, God can; I think I’ll let God today.” That simple realization can get us out of our self-absorption, which is where most of our anxiety, fear, self-pity and depression live.

What To Do with Indecision, Emotional Upset or Boredom During the Day

1. Indecision

We are supposed to try to relax. What?! How do we even start? Well, the first thing we do is breathe in and out to the count of five at least five times. We deliberately relax our shoulders from up around our ears, uncurl our fists, and straighten out our backs. Once the body is a little better, we ask for what the Big Book calls ‘an intuitive thought.’ Many of us probably called our sponsors within 60 seconds of trying this to say that it didn’t work. I’ve learned a couple of things about this. One, intuitive thoughts don’t come on demand and when I’m watching for them. Two, they come when I’m involved in doing something else—usually the next right thing and usually something that is not focused on me. So, ask for that thought and then wash the dishes, clean out the closet, go for a bike ride, or dig in the dirt in the garden. It’s amazing how the answers begin to come.

2. Emotional Upset

One of my all-time favorite lines in the Big Book is “pause when agitated.” I can’t tell you how many times it has saved me from a disaster of my own making. It’s so powerful that I didn’t realize for years that there was a second part where I could ask for help for the next right thought or action. That’s an excellent choice too. Doing the next right thing to the best of my ability works much better than whatever I was going to do before I paused.

3. Boredom

Boredom with anxiety or depression can be a real trial for those us in recovery, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Again, our literature suggests that the answer is not with us. Reaching out to others—giving back, even when we don’t believe we have anything to give—takes you out of self and boredom. So, pick up a phone, send an email or a text, or make a funny Tic Tok video to send to someone.

One of my favorite practices write now is writing a letter to the people I love to let them know exactly how they have made a difference in my life. This is a gift from my friend Frank V. who said to me about someone dear to him, “He knows what he is to me.” I want all my loved ones to know exactly what they are to me. Writing these letters takes me straight into love and gratitude—far from boredom.

A Final Review of the Day Right Before Bedtime

Most of us in recovery have minds that automatically go back to whatever didn’t go well during the day. In fact, we dwell on those things, often disturbing our sleep with them. This is not what ‘a design for living’ had in mind. Rather, we can ask ourselves where and about what did I become afraid? This gentle, compassionate question is usually at the root of angry conflicts with others, manipulation to get our way, and a host of other troubles. If we can forgive ourselves for being afraid, we can move forward to forgive others and make amends when we’ve acted as less than we are.

Another nighttime practice is a gratitude list. Yes, even during a pandemic. Gratitude may be a topic that makes you groan like it did many of us! I personally resisted this tried and true tool for years. Eventually, I started a very basic practice of writing down three very specific things that I was grateful for on that day. As usual, when I worked the program, it worked me. I started to look for things during the day because I knew I had to have those three specifics at night. Lo and behold, the more I looked, the more I found. And the more I found, the more grateful I felt—not thought I should feel, but actually felt. A side benefit? It kept me in today. That’s really important to many of us right now. We only stay sober today – one day at a time.

Stay SOBER During the Pandemic

I don’t know about you, but I find that I can’t always remember all the things I’ve learned from the practices of the 12-Step Program, especially when I need them, especially when times are stressful due to a pandemic. So, I will leave you with this little tool which helps me remember what I need to do today to stay SOBER. Together, we can do this!

S = Step Work

O = Others and Service

B = Big Book and Literature

E = Every Day, One Day at a Time

R = Reflection, Prayer, and Meditation

This guest post about coronavirus anxiety was authored by Cinde Stewart Freeman, RN, LACDAC, QCS

Cinde Stewart Freeman is Cumberland Heights’ Chief Clinical Officer and has been with Cumberland Heights for 25 years.