Those who keep at this change process for months and years can truly be called masters, as they have navigated (and continue to navigate) waters that many others never enter. It’s a mastery process most people don’t have to go through, which gives those who do a unique perspective on the world — acceptance of the way life can flip you without warning, of the need to keep your eyes open and not “hope for the best" as a strategy, of living with uncertainty but still choosing to orient your direction toward your values, and of keeping that heading even when the winds are trying to blow you off course. There is a beauty, grace and humility to this perspective, which can be breathtaking to observe.
Everyone who is trying to make a change to their substance use is on their own path towards becoming a master. While that journey is never particularly easy, this particular moment is one that needs special attention. Quarantines, uncertainty, change in routine, loss of income, lack of support structure, FEELING A LITTLE FREAKED!, worrying/spiraling about our own health or our loved ones, home school challenges, screwed up rhythm to each day, worried about food, trauma triggers that leave me feeling unsafe, that creeping “screw it" voice in the background. It’s a lot for everyone, and it threatens to knock you off your path towards mastery.
For those who grew up in colder climates, there was a moment each year (or 3 if you got lucky!) when as an 8 or 12 or 16-year-old you’d be listening to the local radio on a snowy morning, hoping against hope they’d call it a “snow day" and close your school because of the storm. And those days always had a strange quality to them…like anything might happen, all bets were off, all routines out of whack.
Well, the world is sure flipping a lot of us on our heads, and “snow days" are now every day (this is more like a blizzard month than a snow day)! These days can be very disorienting to us, and we may revert back to those school-age rules, that we are not bound today (or at all during this period) by the rules that govern us during “normal times." But here’s the thing: for those engaged in this substance-related mastery journey, you have learned (or are learning) that “snow days" are things that happen in the world, not in our minds and hearts. And it is our minds and hearts that need to protect and orient us. This mastery journey is not dependent on the world, and the challenges getting thrown at us, it is and has always depended on you. On you slowing down long enough to notice yourself…who you are, what you care about, how you want to be in the world, WHO you want to be.
So please, honor the work and focus and self-respect you have engaged in and nurtured, honor the resilience you have earned by looking deeper than most people do and honor your mastery. You can honor it by creating structure day after day when there is a lack of it, then re-creating new structure next week when you need to roll with changes; by setting your intentions each morning around “what matters to me as a human today" that goes beyond how damn irritating my roommate or kids are after all this time together; by taking a breath (or 10) and accepting my stumbles each day and all the ways I may NOT be able to stick to my values (it’s ok). All of these are important practices; all are related to respecting and honoring the path you have been on…a path you have been on because it matters to YOU.
You can also engage in this thought experiment: Let yourself go forward into the future 10 years, and sit with a loved one looking back on this window in your history. How would you like to be describing how you managed yourself…your heart, your relationships, your vision for the life you wanted? And now, what would help you today to move you closer to that description in 10 years? This can help you pinpoint ways that you can stay on your journey, even when the world is trying to knock you off.
Is it a little unfair, or uncomfortable, or FREAKING HARD that in the middle of mastering my life, and working to live the way I care about living, it “snows?!" Yes it is. Now can we get back to that mastery journey in your head and heart? Please take care.
Give In Kind is proud to feature Jeff Foote, Ph.D, a nationally recognized clinical research scientist in the field of addiction and the Founder of the Center for Motivation & Change. Previously, Dr. Foote has served as the Deputy Director of the Division of Alcohol Treatment and Research at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC, as well as a Senior Research Associate at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) in NYC. Dr. Foote also served as Chief of the Smithers Addiction Treatment and Research Center.
This the eighth in a series of articles to provide guidance as to navigating situations we continue to navigate during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that life continues in all aspects, even the pandemic impacts all of us in profound ways. We are on your team now as well as post-pandemic – and beyond. We invite you to visit our library of situationally specific articles here.
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