“Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” — Thomas Wolfe
I am sad today. John Prine, the raspy-voiced country-folk singer whose creative lyrics to songs made him a favorite of Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and others, died Tuesday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. He was 73. I was so pulling for him to make it through the COVID virus. But, he didn’t. The lyrics of his music was so earthy—for me, so spiritual.
I never knew John Prine and he never knew me. Yet, during his final moments, I believe we shared similar symptoms of the COVID funk-likely, he, to a far greater experience than mine. The essence of COVID funk is a deep abiding loneliness. If John died the way so many have, he faced the Grim Reaper all by himself without loved ones near his bedside. Prine wrote a powerful song “He Was In Heaven Before He Died”. The thought of the hell faced by those COVID victims who slip away all alone is unfathomable.
Sheltering in place is all we know to do without vaccination or treatment. America should be proud of so many who have taken this virus attack seriously. However, as the days wear on the core of COVID funk which is loneliness grows. It is so difficult to wake up each day to the same fears, uncertainties and anxieties. Frustration grows while a pervading loneliness quietly expands while we shelter in place. This condition becomes dangerous to all of us, particularly if we are addicts. When the insulation of human closeness evaporates, isolation moves in and for addicts this can become lethal.
Covid funk grows with lethargy and underlying grief and fear. The results trigger a deep abiding spirit of loneliness and fosters poor connection. For an addict, the call of an old familiar “friend” becomes difficult to ignore when isolated and staring at loneliness. Addiction has always provided what it promises even but for a brief moment. To escape impending doom, an unwanted feeling or outcome is the illusion of addiction’s payload. The longer I linger in loneliness and isolation the more inviting addictive act out appears.
I know how to say the right things so that people don’t pry or know what it’s like underneath. I look good but underneath the hood there is so much disconnection. It builds to a crescendo and finally triggers an act out. Perhaps, at first, no one knows. As an addict I am amazed at how old addictive behaviors which have been absent for so long can quickly become mainstay staple experiences in my life again.
Relapse is rooted in Covid funk. How do I address this quiet pervading experience that threatens sobriety like the virus itself threatens physical life? Here are a few helpful handles:
To know that you can go down (face loneliness) and come back up (create centeredness) is necessary to maintain sobriety and deepen serenity. Without this skillset, most addicts succumb to panic and end up acting out. In the unspectacular average moments of your day cultivate inward connection thru quiet reflection, meditation, and journaling (written or verbal). Dare to be vulnerable. Pick up the phone, make a virtual connect. Break out of paralysis by telling on yourself to someone in program. Pour out your heart and notice how becoming emotionally naked, again, grounds you and brings you back to center.
Externally, establish routines that ground and cultivate predictability. Don’t allow yourself to sleep beyond your intended time to get up. Don’t allow yourself to stay up at night beyond your awareness of when you need sleep. Getting out of rhythm and sync is a set up for relapse. Maintain your regular pattern of living with external structure. When you allow yourself to stumble through the day without intentionality and purpose you set yourself up for greater anxiety. Loneliness and despair that accelerates COVID funk will ultimately lead to relapse. Internally, be aware of ways in which you allow negative thoughts to become your reality. When negative beliefs become operational, addictive cycle is fueled. Without an internal reframing of thoughts and attitudes an addict will rapidly move to high risk behaviors fueled by loneliness and addictive rationale. Creating an internal structure ( a checklist with accountability) to fend off misbeliefs about self while fostering being present in the moment is a powerful way to transform loneliness and isolation with the inward inspiration and awareness to connect with another addict in recovery. Checklists can include awareness of the presence of mistaken beliefs, anticipating rejection, victim posturing, emotional isolation, fantasy, feelings check, grooming behaviors and ways I reconstitute-thinking and acting as if I have no limits.
When I am discouraged or afraid I am more prone to isolate and withdraw from supportive conversation with others. It can be such a subtle alteration of life events that triggers distance. With a pandemic, the distance is automatic. It will be necessary that every addict go on high alert and install automatic connections to support. Most addicts don’t do this well. This adds intensity to COVID funk. I can appear so good while withdrawing within so deep. Others will not quickly recognize. It will be necessary to activate communication with accountability support people. Ideally, this happens at the moment of alteration. Realistically, addicts are slow to make the needed connect and usually linger in loneliness. This is where high risk accelerates and relapse can occur. Honest real conversation about loneliness and consulting about how to manage is the vaccine for COVID funk.
Remember, addicts remain sober and solidly centered when they recognize their own limitation and live within those boundaries. Like the canal for barge traffic, as long as I stay within the structured boundaries established to manage my addiction, I will remain centered. The secret that I discover is that I can go as deep within myself as I choose to enrich my connection with self and others. This is the opportunity to transform the hell of being all alone in COVID funk and create some heaven in support by reaching out to others who know the same challenge. — KW
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