As someone who has complex PTSD and is in recovery from substance use disorders, you could argue that I am at risk during the pandemic — whether that means risk of returning to use or of suffering with dysregulation. However, I’d argue that makes me, and many others in long-term recovery, adequately skilled at handling a pandemic.
People in recovery are resilient. We have suffered the depths of addiction, which often means losses — of loved ones, jobs, families, and perhaps even freedom — but we still managed to find help and sustain recovery. That’s an enormous achievement and demonstration of strength and resilience.
I’m not saying that people in recovery can handle natural disasters or pandemics like a walk in the park, but I am saying that we have the experience and the wherewithal to handle difficult situations. The only way I’ve been able to sustain my recovery is through changing my maladaptive coping strategies — drinking and taking drugs — to healthier alternatives that enable me to care for myself and cope with stress.
Self-care usually looks like setting boundaries, eating well, socializing, going out for dinner, and having a fulfilling life and a sense of purpose and belonging. It means taking my dog on a beautiful hike and taking a break from work to visit new places. Occasionally it means some bodywork or acupuncture. However, many of those activities are not possible right now, and haven’t been since March!
I know that for many, the pandemic has resulted in the deaths of loved ones, job losses, and exacerbation of mental illness during social isolation. There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected us all in challenging ways, both emotionally and economically.
I’ve felt isolated and alone, had bouts of depression, struggled with a significantly reduced energy, and have found it hard to stay motivated. As a resident of Oregon, I also recently experienced the stress and anxiety from the wildfires that have ravaged over one million acres of our beautiful land. And the evacuation zones were just 10 miles from my house!
Both the pandemic and wildfires have made it difficult for me to practice self-care, but not impossible. I’ve found that all I’ve needed to do is adjust:
Self-care isn’t easy when we want to avoid the world right now, but it is possible to adjust our care to manageable tasks that provide a brief moment of comfort and relief.
Geri Lynn Utter, PsyD Perspective Piece: Relapse, Mental Health, and the State of the World As I sat down to write this article, I thought