COVID Constraints Requires Community Ventilators

By Ken Wells - 04/14/2020


There is a race to find enough ventilators in major metropolitan areas across America. While a ventilator does not cure COVID-19, it is a fairly fancy piece of technological equipment which is designed to breathe for somebody who is unable to breathe effectively on their own. Getting enough oxygen into the bloodstream and carrying carbon dioxide out is an essential function of the lungs that COVID-19 attacks. The ventilator is especially helpful to carry out the carbon dioxide. In a pandemic, we need as many ventilators as we can access around the world.

Pandemics have a paradoxical way of promoting community. In a world of division and diverse interests, a mysterious pandemic sardonically forces a kind of tolerance that survival demands. It’s sort of like Pi being stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Two unlikely companions who must create tolerance of the other merely to survive. There are a few across our country who promote theories about who is to blame for this virus. Yet, most try to cooperate by sheltering in place in community. The result has been a growing tolerance and appreciation with increased compassion in the midst of our country’s rich diversity.

Helen Keller once said, “tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think.”

In recovery, connecting with the common shared weakness of another addict provides the ventilation so necessary for tolerance to grow and maintain long term sobriety. When weakness isn’t shared, the ventilations stops and recovery life is threatened.

COVID-19 constraints threaten the ventilation so necessary for ongoing sobriety growth and maintenance. The life blood of recovery requires the ventilation that is created by listening to a story of common shared brokenness.

Sheltering in place means that I stop going to face to face meetings. The risk of suffocating ventilation accelerates when I slow to reach out through virtual meetings or connect with recovery program people. It is subtle yet a powerful inhibition while sheltering in place. The lack of human connection weakens tolerance for others and ego begins to take up more space. Eventually, I lose the recovery insight that fosters bonding among people who have gone through the same crisis. The ventilation so needed in recovery becomes stagnant. I stop respecting where I may be different from someone else because I am not connecting with where others are like me. The oxygen that comes from human connection stops and the poisonous emotions of self pity, resentment and isolation clogs the ventilation that community brings.

In order for necessary tolerance to continue in recovery what is needed is that we become our own community ventilator. Listed are five suggested steps that form the acronym VOCAL toward cultivating healthy ventilation in the presence of COVID-19 constraints.

1. Vision- Tolerance within self and toward others depends upon the ventilation created by a sense of VISION. What we think about expands our reality. If I dwell on isolation, it will become the narrative that will dominate my existence, However, if I envision tolerance and acceptance regarding what I am facing and what others are confronting, that is what will expand. In this way, I transform the concept of constraint into an energy that generates tolerance and allows for me to remain present in the here and now. Vision lowers anxiety and fuels tolerance for the present moment.

2. Open- toward differences. Addicts have experienced a sort of pandemic with destructive behaviors brought on by their own actions. The constraints of sheltering in place can stimulate closing your heart toward recovery with judgment of self and others which trigger isolation and constrict tolerance. On the other hand, an open heart to what is uncertain and different can help to connect with others who share the same struggle and shared addiction. An open heart cultivates community ventilation that provides diverse support to all and promotes tolerance in the midst of adversity.

3. Cooperation— not competition. When facing a pandemic, COVID-19 or addictive craving, cooperation is needed. Cooperation can take what is and spread it around and make it enough. It doesn’t fragment. Competition fractures community with a zero sum mentality of winners and losers. In the presence of pandemic, the spirit of competition chokes the ventilation. Whereas, a spirit of cooperation acts as a community ventilator which cultivates and expands the present resources so that there is enough in the present, not only for me, but for all.

4. Acceptance of those who are different. A community ventilator generates acceptance of what is and toward others. Without this ventilation as an addict I will be stifled with narrow mindedness. The ventilation of recovery gets clogged and I no longer see different views and experiences of others without judgment. Tolerance begins to suffer. I struggle with my own self acceptance. I begin to struggle with wallowing in self hatred because of past recovery failure. I use “power over” tactics to control others.. Yet, through acceptance I create a “power with” strategy that ventilates community with cooperation, self and others esteem and connection.

5. Listening: to the hearts of self and others. In recovery, when I stop listening to my heart and the soul and spirit of the world around me, tolerance begins to fade in the presence of narrow minded bigotry. Community recovery requires the ventilation of carefully listening to ourselves, our bodies and to each other. Powerful emotions of sadness, anger, emptiness and anxiety are examples of what can be framed as “the voice of God”. If we listen to our emotions, our bodies and each other, it becomes a ventilation of awareness that promotes tolerance toward self and others.

In recovery, The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to slow your life down and cultivate the discipline to listen to your body, emotions and the world around you. When you incorporate these skills in recovery you will foster tolerance toward yourself and become a community ventilator in the midst of pandemic scarcity. — KW

You can read more insights about the importance of embracing every day experiences in recovery from Ken’s newly released book “Dare to Be Average- Finding Brilliance in the Commonplace” – published by Daily House Publishing and currently on sale through

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