COVID 19: Advice from a Recovering Alcoholic and a NYC Dr.
Most all of the clergy that I know are struggling with how to do what we are called to do and still maintain some sense of balance and remain within solid medical guidelines. As we reflect upon the fear, anxiety, anger, and angst of this present time all can seem overwhelming. When I have done some counseling or spiritual direction in the past I so often look to my own experiences as sources of perhaps wisdom or at the very least companionship with the person to whom I am engaged. Very often such reflections bring me right back to my own story and experiences in Recovery.
You see I am a Recovering Alcoholic with other addictions like tobacco. But my alcohol Recovery is still in tact. When one goes into Recovery, in order to be successful, you are remade. You are remade from what was damaged into something that is perhaps less damaged and more authentic. You learn, over time, to be more honest with yourself and to check yourself. That is called “a fearless spiritual inventory.” You also learn, over time, to deal with stresses and inevitable challenges in much more constructive and healthy ways. The starting point for that is always, “one day at a time” and for some “one hour at a time.” Recovery demands that we live in the present moment.
Living in the present moment demands that we move away from “projecting” as one of its essential understandings. Projecting is reacting to or emotionally putting yourself in future time to an event imagined but that has not yet unfolded. It is different than planning or allowing for contingencies. Planning and contingencies don’t carry the full weight of our spiritual and emotional selves with them. Projecting does. A poor example but one none the less is getting very angry with a person over a conversation that you haven’t had, may not have, and that is possible only in the future. You then react as if it has already happened. Projecting. It is a toxic weakness of our species because we all do it sometimes. But if one is healthy we check that imagination and return to the present moment. I could go on about deflecting, rationalizing, and enabling. But I am not writing this about Recovery but only to lay the ground work based on my experience of becoming overwhelmed by what hasn’t happened yet. Or by LIFE in general.
Imagine, if you will, a huge rough bolder. Yep like the one Wile E Coyote might use. It is big. Really big.That boulder might represent issues, worries, challenges, and concerns. Perhaps that boulder is all of it, perhaps it is a singular issue that is complicated and layered. But what we do by projecting and not living in the present moment is to pile it on. We pile all sorts of things, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and imaginative toxicity on. “It” becomes a bolder. Kind of like how I am seeing so many of us responding to Covid 19. The “what ifs” are a killer. [PAUSE: I am not minimizing anything here please don’t think that I am. We are dealing with something serious]. True, Covid 19 is a new thing in our age of rapid transmission and communication. True Covid 19 is hurtful and carries with it risks. It is not true that it is just another Virus it is new and so medicine is playing a catch up game. They will catch up but it may take more time than our 21st century temperaments are accustomed to. So, we like Wile, stand under that bolder and the result is that we are overwhelmed. When we are overwhelmed our rational side takes a back seat and too often our Lizard Brain takes control. Fight of flight, them against us, everyone is carrying the virus and THEY are toxic. So, how do we even begin to live in the present moment, to mitigate our sense of being overwhelmed, and to begin to find perhaps a new way of being that is at least somewhat healthier than living in constant fear. Fear, by the way, is a major force in creating a biological platform for sickness in body as well as spirit. So, before I launch off into a suggestion I want you to visualize your own bolder. Focus on it for a time. Create your own imaginative psychic boulder that is resulting in being overwhelmed and thus living in fear.
Now take a sledge hammer or maybe some ACME TNT and explode it! Yep, let your cartoon brain have fun with this part. You see, it is impossible to keep that boulder up in the air. It is impossible to “deal” with or work around that paralyzing boulder. Yet, you are strong and you have substance so what can you work with? Some may call this “compartmentalizing.” You see that boulder is made up of parts, constituent parts, when you “blow it up”, when you deconstruct it, all the parts are still there, but each part is manageable. It moves from a boulder to a rock perhaps even a pebble. No really you don’t have to deal with all the parts right now. No you don’t have to emotionally invest in all of those parts. What you do need to do is to start to unpack and claim pieces of the overwhelming sense of helplessness, loss of control, or maybe even abandonment or at least social estrangement. What you can do is start to pick up pieces of what was once a bolder and to start to constructively work with each constituent piece.
Notice the image on the right. In that hand, holding parts of once was a boulder, are several stones/rocks. Look carefully now. Each stone is a different size, different shapes, and different weights. Each one is different and yet manageable to hold in ones hand, and in our case, one spirit. Put another way, what is the challenge this moment? What is the stone the pebble of this hour? Maybe you need to go to the store to get groceries. Is that dangerous. No, not really. Not if you follow reasonable guidelines. Wash, wipe down, and keep a reasonable distance. That doesn’t sound too bad does it? When you start to wander into “OMG who handled this? What about the store workers are they contagious? Oh no a lady ten ft. away sneezed?” and you jam all of that into a moment you have a boulder. BUT, if you are gentle and thoughtful you can remind yourself in each case: wash hands, use sanitizer, don’t touch my face. Things like that become a habit after a while and part of how we live. Is that less intimidating than wondering about the cosmic influence of Covid? Perhaps, I hope so, I believe it will. A reasonable and healthy response to Covid is what is called for. Don’t let an onslaught of information nor imagination become your primary source of context. One day at a time. How was today? Did you follow reasonable hygiene rules? Did you take a break from the tension and maybe nap, or take a walk, or simply pray?
I want to thank Allison Reid who is in seminary for sharing a link by a Doctor in NYC who has a lot of wisdom to share and yes GOOD NEWS. That good news is empowerment and knowledge. It is good news that brings control into your life. I found it therapeutic and honest and very helpful. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolating. If you have maybe 10 min. or so take a listen. Carry a pebble and leave the rest of those stones to rest until YOU are ready to pick one up or even a handful. Each part of what we do is that, a part, it represents only that even if it is part of whole. None the less – it is a part. Peace and blessings…. Now for a word from
Dr. David Price of Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York. He deals with very sick COVID-19 patients, and he knows how to protect himself and others.