'Lockdown is a recovering addict’s worst nightmare'
The lock down that is currently imposed in SA as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has created interestingly diverse reactions in people suffering with mental and emotional issues.
Some have reacted with a positive shift of perspective that has allowed them to reprioritize what is important and focus on being grateful and content in their lives, whilst others have reacted with anxiety, fear and a subsequent deterioration in their mental and emotional health. The same is true for people suffering with addictions.
It is a time when those suffering with addictions are at significant risk of relapse for a variety of different reasons. Three recovering alcoholics have shared their experiences and advice for lockdown.
Gail Whitear, a recovering alcoholic and life coach comments: “The disease of addiction is known for robbing its victim from any meaningful connections as well as keeping its victim isolated and alone. In the rooms (AA meetings) we have a saying: 'Get out of your head', because as addicts we are well known for obsessing over the smallest things and this can send us into a flat spin, and if not arrested could possible pave the way to a relapse. This lockdown of isolation is a recovering addict’s worst nightmare.”
One of the primary issues that people suffering with addiction have struggled with during lock down is isolation. Addiction is a disease that, by its very nature, isolates people and lack of connection becomes part of the self-perpetuating cycle that keeps addicts trapped in their addiction.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and some of the other related programs hold regular meetings that allow their members to share their experiences and thoughts with the group. Meetings are a life-line for many recovering addicts however the lock down has made face to face meetings illegal.
Whitear comments that, although she was fearful of not being able to access meetings when lock down began, within 24 hours the World wide 12 Step program had set up online meetings. She writes: “We have answered the call to preserve life physically by remaining in our homes, and we are now answering the call to connect virtually by creating an unprecedented number of online meetings.
"From the comfort of my home I can go to any meeting at any time in any part of the world, several times a day if needs be. So while this time of isolation is a challenge, I am beyond grateful that I do not have to travel it alone. I have millions like me at just a click away.”
Her advice for lock down is to stay connected to the right people.
Ironically the lack of availability of alcohol has been another issue for some recovering addicts. Mr X, who is recently in recovery, described how the news that alcohol would not be available during lock down triggered a relapse for him.
The decision to enter recovery from addiction has to be a completely personal choice and the recovering addict needs to feel that they are in control of their recovery and are making their own decision to stay free of their substance of their choice one day at a time.
The decision by the South African government to outlaw the sale of alcohol during the lock down period has removed this element of choice and control. Mr X describes: “On the last day before the lockdown I found myself in panic mode because I was not going to be able to buy alcohol if I wanted to. The feeling of having no options made me feel frantic and rushed.
"It wasn’t even that I actually wanted the alcohol but I wasn’t in control of the situation. This led me to make a hurried decisions to buy alcohol before I had even thought through what I was doing. Of course once I had bought it I ended up drinking it.”
His advice for lock down: “When you run out of alcohol, slow down and think about whether it is something that you actually need. Just because you can’t have it doesn’t mean you want it.”
For many recovering addicts, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated anxiety and negative thinking which is typically a part of the disease and can be a significant trigger for relapse. Mrs X, who has been in recovery from alcohol addiction for many years, has found that practicing gratefulness has allowed her experience of lock down to be a positive rather than a negative one.
She comments “I am grateful that my day is not spent in fear of where my next drink is coming from, if and when I run out; that I know that I can only control me, my thoughts and my actions; that I now have relationships with family and friends that are meaningful and not based on fear, lies and manipulation; that I have the power of choice, I can choose to have a good or bad day, I can choose to allow good thoughts to enter my mind or to let fear consume me; that I will never be alone again, unless I choose to be; and that even though I am in lockdown, I am free.”
Her advice for lock down is to remember that, although recovery is difficult, you have a choice, you are worth the fight and you don’t have to do it alone. “There is hope and you are worth it, even if it doesn't feel like it right now.”
Claire Moore is a counselling psychologist.