And Covid! Continues. Really?
Aren’t we in the home stretch yet? Apparently not. Breaking news (that surprises no one): vaccine rollout not happening as quickly as planned/predicted… B117 Covid Mutation Bomber now looms…blah blah blah.
There is an adage in long-term recovery. “If you stick with the basics, you never have to get back to them.” So, what are the mental and emotional wellbeing basics in this prolonged, semi-pseudo-quarantine-lock-down-but-not-really-just enough-to-destroy-the-global-economy-but-not-enough-to-slow-transmission situation?
The basics are:
- Stay as grounded in the present moment as you are able.
- Slow down. Breathe. Deeply. Repeat.
- Feel and honor your feelings. Do not deny them. Don’t take them out on others. Feel them, then let them go. (Call LAP if you need help understanding how to effectively navigate this terrain).
- Do what you can to address your circumstances. Do your best, then let go of the rest.
- Find ways to laugh.
- Be kind. To yourself. To others. We may disagree about every single thing, but we can still be kind to one another. Can’t swing kind? Then be civil. We are all doing our dead-level best. And, while we may be in different boats, we are all in the same storm.
- Go back and read or reread the State Bar Journal Summer 2020 LAP Column on Coping with Uncertainty https://www.ncbar.gov/media/730601/journal-25-2.pdf (see Page 30).
- Stay off social media because prolonged exposure prevents and impedes Nos. 1-6. Not kidding.
Hemingway wrote in Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone, and then some become strong in the broken places.” This succinctly describes the process of recovery. As soon as LAP participants begin using recovery tools, they start actively practicing Nos. 1-6 above, daily, out of survival-level necessity. Early recovery, for most people, usually involves situations steeped in uncertainty (economic, personal, professional, social, familial) – situations where there is a sense of a loss of control, not only to shape outcomes, but even loss of control over the process. People in long-term recovery have had years of practice implementing these tools day in and day out. Recovery is mostly about day-to-day emotional well-being as we navigate the vagaries of life.
It is not that people in long-term recovery somehow do not feel scared, anxious, frustrated, angry, impatient, or overwhelmed. They do; we do. It is that we have learned ways to be more present in the unfolding moment, more emotionally balanced and not make it (i.e., life, a difficult situation like a pandemic, etc.) worse than it actually is. Sometimes it (i.e., life, a difficult situation like a pandemic, etc.) can be quite bad. So, we must find ways to navigate it with some sense of equanimity to maintain some balance. This is where recovery tools come into play. In good news, these recovery tools are available to everyone. Slogans are one tool of recovery.
Last April, I reached out to some LAP volunteers and asked each to send me a short paragraph on their favorite recovery slogan and to apply it to the pandemic. I have shared a few here. Each entry is written by a different volunteer, and yet, you will see lots of overlapping themes that somehow all circle back to Nos. 1-6 above. I received more content from our volunteers than I can possibly use in one Sidebar (LAP’s e-newsletter) or LAP column. So, I created a mental and emotional wellbeing toolkit on our website. Visit www.nclap.org. The toolkit is listed under the resources tab. Or, if you are reading the digital copy of the Journal: click https://www.nclap.org/coronavirus-mental-and-emotional-well-being-toolkit/ You can click on a slogan and read multiple lawyers’ perspectives on a topic. There are relevant articles at the bottom of the page…things like “On Lockdown? Look for Meaning, Not Happiness” or “How will we make it through April (of 2020)….” Hint: the same way we will make it through April (of 2021).
If you are dealing with the death of one or more friends or family members, if you are ill, if you have had to shutter your law practice, or any other serious life events, you may need extra emotional or therapeutic resources. I encourage you to email LAP. People in long-term recovery have faced serious hardship (the same hardships we all face, eventually, one way or the other), and these slogans have served as channel makers, helping them navigate the worst of times. But standing alone, out of context, these slogans may seem trite given your current circumstances. If this is your first exposure to some of these concepts and you are facing serious hardship, you may need to put these in the context of a greater support system or therapeutic plan. So please shoot us an email.
FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real: Taming Fear
Fear is an instinct hardwired in us from birth. It serves an indispensable purpose to alert us to danger — like an approaching hurricane or encountering a snake. Fear makes us aware of possible peril, so we can defend ourselves or evade harm.
Most of us experience another form of a fear, though. In recovery, we refer to when False Evidence Appears Real, or when we Forget Everything is Alright. It’s a “self-centered fear” that takes root when we don’t have control and internally demand we gain it. It becomes a disabling emotion when we demand to keep what we have or obtain what we don’t. And we become suspicious of threats to what we think we want or need.
Business was good. That settlement was within grasp. Then, COVID-19. Now, gripped by FEAR, we’ve just got to get back in the game and make something happen. But as we grow and mature in recovery, we see that everything is just as it should be. Not for us to manipulate, but for us to explore and find blessings within.
We lose the fear of not getting what we want. We trust we’ll be given what we need.
We are not fearful of losing what we have, but grateful for having ever received it.
Self-centered fear is a virus of its own. Faith and gratitude are the vaccine.
Wear Life Like a Loose Garment
“Wear the world like a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly”. St Francis of Assisi.
This recovery saying is the only one that conjures up a physical release, a change in sensation of the body and mind. It allows us to create a peaceful space for ourselves, separated from the incessant incoming arrows of uncertainty, fear, anger, unmet needs and other painful perceptions. For this is what is painful—perceptions. To wear the world as a loose garment is to perceive things as something the world and life will always press at us and around us, but do not have to touch us but “lightly”. Most things are either outside our control or ultimately unimportant. We do not need to grasp, manage, dwell on or react to everything that happens to us, but can choose to keep the “world” at an emotional distance as we do the next right thing. It is an attitude that can relax the body and relieve the mind of poisonous emotions when confronted with people, places or things that beset us.
To be in the world but not of it, to live and move through life without being emotionally attached to everything that happens, is to wear the world lightly and be at peace.
One Day at a Time
Right now, the slogan “One Day at a Time” is my lifeline. In the midst of this coronavirus crisis, so much of it can feel overwhelming—the fear, unmanageability, uncertainty. Early in my Al Anon recovery, with my son at the bottom of addiction, I felt all of those things, overwhelmed by it all. I found “One Day at a Time” so helpful in dealing with the fear, the lack of control, the uncertainty of outcome. It has been a powerful tool ever since, and it is really helping me in this crisis. If I break the whole overwhelming situation down into one day at a time and focus on living in peace in just that day, instead of projecting outcomes and worrying about what’s out of my control anyway, I keep my serenity. It really does work. As our literature says, “Just for today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.”
Another lawyer writes:
Living life “one day at a time” is a concept that is literally forced on us by the reality of the sun rising and setting each day. Life as we know it comes in 24-hour installments. There is no way to change this fact. However, human beings are prone to worrying about the future and regretting the past. These tendencies can lead to fear riddled paralysis, which renders us less useful to those around us in the here and now. In these trying times, the future is uncertain and unsettling. We can easily spend hours of our day contemplating fearful possibilities regarding our future. In the alternative, we can paralyze ourselves with regret filled analysis of our past actions. Attorneys are especially prone to this. We are asked by our clients to predict case outcomes. We are constantly concerned about deadlines and billable goals. These days we may be worried about mortgage payments and meeting pay roll. Committing to live our days one day at a time does not render these responsibilities meaningless or unimportant. Living our lives one day at a time merely right sizes our life’s responsibilities into manageable increments. We can focus each day on accomplishing attainable goals. This allows us to live in the moment, meet our responsibilities with a clear mind and be useful and present to the people we care about.
Do the Next Right Thing
This coronavirus crisis and the constantly changing “new normal” for all of us is a whole new experience in powerlessness on a global scale that we could not have imagined, but thankfully recovery has taught me to recognize and accept my powerlessness, surrender to the reality of the situation and then focus on the next right thing to do. When every aspect of our normal routine is disrupted, I have a choice whether to resist and wallow in fear or focus on the few things I do have control over: my attitude and my actions. Like many lawyers, my upbringing and my training taught me I was supposed figure it all out and solve the whole problem preferably without asking for help. That mindset produces a lonely, fearful state of mind that I cannot afford if I want to stay sober and sane. Instead I have been taught to focus on the next right thing that I can do – which is sometimes just NOT doing what I know is the wrong thing.
Feelings Aren’t Facts
I hadn’t yet been to many recovery meetings when a I heard gruff old guy bark, “Feelings ain’t facts!” I didn’t understand that then, but I think I do now. We all have feelings. They’re not wrong or bad. I don’t want to live a life without joy, compassion, love. The problem is that I sometimes confuse feelings with fact and act on or live for a while with the feeling rather than the factual reality – to my detriment and maybe the detriment of others. I’ve learned that the better course is to acknowledge the feeling and analyze it – get the facts straight. Meditation or talking to a person I trust can be helpful. When I’ve got the facts straight, I can integrate them appropriately with my feelings and act or react effectively. And I don’t wallow in emotion.
It’s normal, rational, for me to be anxious, even fearful, about the coronavirus pandemic. But instead of living my days in that fear, when I analyze the facts, I can appropriately act upon them. I see what I can and should do (or not do), take any necessary action, and live my life – carefully.
In my early recovery I was told, repeatedly, “Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.” And it was amazing to discover how out of touch I was with myself in those seemingly simple arenas. In the early days I used this slogan as a touchstone to come back to internal balance. In an effort to keep it simple today in the time of the coronavirus, it helps to remember this simple slogan. If I remember to HALT, I am much less likely to spiral emotionally (inside my head) or become too reactive to the people in my life (family, co-workers, opposing counsel, the person in front of me at the grocery store who does not understand exactly how to properly use gloves or a mask).
Attitude of Gratitude
I can’t tell you how many times in my recovery journey that I’ve found myself accepting an invitation to a one-person pity party. And without exception, my sponsor would tell me to make a gratitude list. I would do it – sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly – but I would do it. And without fail, my mental state would change. During this challenging time, I try to keep an attitude of gratitude even while acknowledging there really is something to be distressed about. Being grateful doesn’t mean being in denial about what is going on. It means that once we face our feelings about the circumstances, we can choose to shift our focus. With my focus shifted, I find there is always something, no matter how small, I can be grateful for: the tulip that bloomed in my yard, food in my refrigerator, online shopping, Facetime, a good book and time to read it. And if in any moment I can find nothing else to say thank you for, at least for today, I am grateful to be sober.
Years before I became a lawyer, I had KISS (“Keep It Simple Stupid”) drilled into my head in the Army. Back then it meant that I needed to forget everything else and learn how to be a soldier. Later, when life got more complicated, it meant that I had to get out of my own head and focus instead on those things that were most important and let go of those things that were out of my control. So today, as life seems very complicated and sometimes even dangerous, I come back to KISS and concentrate on those things that really are important. Like health. Without the gym to go to, I’ve been finding some innovative ways to exercise, like walking outside and communing with nature. Like connections. Even before coronavirus I knew that total isolation was a bad place. Now I wish I had had the prescience to buy Zoom stock because I am constantly using it to connect with extended family, co-workers, clients and more. Like limiting my screen time. Thinking that I needed to stay informed about COVID-19, I spent a lot of time watching the news channels. Before long, I found that too much screen time really wasn’t healthy. Now, I catch up with about a half hour broadcast at night that avoids politics like the plague. Like practicing kindness. With all the craziness in the world, it’s time to treat everyone, even those who aren’t particularly likable, with heart-felt kindness. If we can do that, we’ll all get through this together.Tags: covid, judges, lawyers, mindfulness, resilience, slogans, stress Posted by