The Overlooked Danger of COVID-19 for Addicts

By Ken Wells - 03/26/2020


Today, our country is facing an unprecedented fear of pandemic proportion with COVID-19. This is not the first pandemic outbreak in my life time that has impacted the U.S. During the 1980’s the world was in panic about the spread of HIV-AIDS virus and in other parts of the world there have been many other viruses threatening communities. However, COVID-19 is our current threat and demands our prudence and careful consideration. Many of us are sorting through the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and learning how to best apply safe measures as we navigate day to day.

With the fear of the unknown, there always comes the struggle to figure out adjustments that make sense and how to manage safety with reasonable caution. While there are necessary steps for safe sanctuary that must be considered by all, the steps we take may not be lock step and there may be some variations applied as we attempt to navigate this perilous pandemic experience.

For addicts, it will be important to plan for self care in the midst of frenzy and panic. Historically, many of us address our anxiety and feelings of helplessness by medicating with our addiction. While many contribute to the pandemic turmoil by buying up all the toilet paper in our groceries, addicts can retreat to their drug of choice. It has always delivered what it promised in the past. What is not considered is the wicked blow back on the other side of the hangover from the act out.

Currently, in response to helpful social distancing, many 12 step communities are suspending meetings in the midst of the outbreak. For an addict, isolation is a big deal. When faced with anxiety, fear and vulnerability, what is needed is insulation and not isolation. So pandemic conditions create special challenges for an addict. Becoming a lone coal outside the fires of community contributes to the pandemic of addictive act out. Here are a few thoughts for addicts to consider when faced with pandemic fears:

1. Ground yourself daily.

Rather than getting caught up with an attitude of scarcity that prevails with pandemic crisis, take time to ground yourself with meditation and focus on your breathing. Conversely, sitting with the discomfort will diminish the anxiety that comes from fear and uncertainty. Bringing yourself back to center will help you access your recovery life tools.

2. Practice gratitude.

We live in a culture dominated with the disease of more. So when fear and uncertainty abound the temptation is to compulsively reach for more, whether it is toilet paper, face masks, or addictive urge and act out. A mentality of scarcity takes what is and makes it less, thus, triggering the desire to go get more. Gratitude takes what is and makes it enough, thus creating calm and peace within.

3. Insulate, don’t isolate:

In the presence of pandemic challenge, you will need to be creative how you insulate. You must be prudent with the way in which you address the dynamic of isolation. With public gatherings and work settings being altered, it is a great temptation to snuggle next to your drug of choice, whether it be booze, drug, sex, ice cream, toilet paper or whatever. It will be crucial that you utilize your innovative skills and find ways to connect now more than ever. When you cannot attend 12 step meetings, why not use the phone. If you are not used to making phone calls then this is a great time to develop a new practice. You might choose to Skype a recovery friend- talking through the anxiety will always help manage uncertainty. Create group connections through whatever social medium works best for you. If you choose to meet a recovery friend or sponsor in person, just practice safe social distancing.

4. Practice affirmations.

Pandemic virus triggers a brooding, fearful negative atmosphere of doom and gloom. Yet, there is an alternative. There has never been a more poignant moment in the history of 12 step recovery for those of us who have worked the steps for years on end to step up and lead those who are fearful. We can utilize our sobriety to help others recognize that in powerlessness and unmanageability peace and poise can be found through acceptance and surrender to a Higher Power. This perspective is a process in which we can galvanize ourselves with well conditioned affirmations that help to reframe our life experience from doom and gloom to realistic positive possibility.

5. Be willing to make ongoing daily adjustments.

In the face of pandemic challenge, uncertainty abounds and predictability is difficult. Yet, in our 12 step recovery we have the power to adjust. Be flexible and supple is the encouragement from the Tao de Ching. Rigidity does not work well with pandemic demand. As an addict when I get into my judgment of self and others, I lose my capacity to adjust. Taking one day at a time means that I must embrace the capability of making adjustments. If I need to stay home to do my work because of pandemic, then I will need to take initiative and manage unstructured and unaccounted for time in a proactive and creative ways. I will want to live in consultation with my support. Rather than to scale down recovery, I have the power to ramp up recovery utilizing the potential of making adjustments.

It is true that these are perilous and troublesome times. It is also true, that the destiny of 12 step recovery is fulfilled in times such as these. The design for our recovery has not been for us alone. Rather, we have the privilege to influence a nation to seek a spiritual resource to quell the fears of addiction and uncertainty.

When we are mindful in our recovery, we have the opportunity to transform current every day danger into the possibility of deepening the brilliance of congruent recovery. The late icon and activist Grace Lee Boggs was correct when she declared in her book “We are the leaders that we are looking for”.

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