By Jane Cooke
Humans suffer when they sense a loss of control and face uncertainty. We are also highly sociable creatures of habit, so you don’t have to be at the extremes of society to feel powerless, hopeless or lonely at this extraordinarily challenging time. It’s now week four of the UK C-19 lock down and I’m gripped by the impact it’s having on our national sanity and the imaginative ways we’re trying to maintain some kind of normality.
This imperative differs wildly: from the recently bereaved, the frightened and exhausted health care workers, single mothers in cramped housing, those who are involuntarily home alone or worse, to the homeless. It’s a particular challenge to folks with addictions and their families. Domestic violence, child neglect and rampaging debt are the worst consequences in such cases but, for many, the confinement and lack of external support will be a personal torture.
Suppose you’re a healthy, non-essential worker, you can survive financially for now, have access to the Internet (and Netflix), outdoor spaces, and you still love your family, just? Are you starting to feel irritable, restless and discontent nonetheless? Is your mind looping fear-based negative thoughts and do you feel guilty about losing your shit because you’re not in the ‘extreme’ camp above?
For the still suffering addict or alcoholic, feelings of powerlessness, resentment and depression are part of everyday life, but for those in recovery, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are proving to be more valuable than ever in overcoming harmful thoughts and emotions. And these steps are not just for addicts, they are simple tools for learning to be more mindful, becoming self-aware and finding peace of mind, as well as clearing out mental baggage of the past. We could all benefit from them during this pandemic.
If this sounds promising, my ‘update’ on the 12 Steps of Recoveryis delivered here with the utmost respect for a program that has saved millions of lives. The original steps were written by author and Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder William G. Wilson (or Bill W) with a little help from his friends – including Carl Jung – in 1939.
The Covid-19 Guide to the 12 Steps of Recovery
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over Covid-19 and that it had the potential to make our lives unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that Covid-19 could not technically drive us insane.
Step 3: Realised we could not face this pandemic alone, but had to reach out to others to give and receive support.
Steps 1-3 cover the basic recognition that, as an individual, you have no direct power over the virus (or anything, really) and that trying to control the uncontrollable can make you crazy. The trick is to take it “A Day at a Time’ (a key AA slogan), which is essentially the same as mindfulness or being present.
Step 4: Made a ‘searching and fearless’ list of all the things that upset us about C-19, plus anything else you’d like to get off your chest.
Step 5: Took a long hard look at this list and, ideally, shared it with someone impartial (and maybe even prayed about it).
Step 6: Noticed that our lists showed up how messy our minds had been, how we’d repeated patterns of unhelpful behaviour, and that it would be nice to clear the decks.
Steps 4-6 may not help you address specific issues surrounding C-19, but by recognising how you’ve dealt with difficulties in the past, you may gain some valuable current insight. If you don’t drink too much or take drugs, perhaps you shop too much, over-eat, or can’t stay off your phone? These are all ways of escaping mental triggers and difficult emotions and ultimately lead to marbles getting lost. The key is to identify your triggers (like trauma, fear and insecurity, loss and grief, to name just a few) and then begin to deal with them differently.
Step 7: Showed willingness to let go of the past and began to realise that the world doesn’t revolve around us and our delicate individual egos.
Step 8: If we were really taking this seriously, we made another list of people who’d been hurt by our self-obsessed behaviour and then prepared to make things better.
Step 9: We ‘fessed up – to ourselves and others (and maybe God) – that we’d made mistakes and that it was probably best to stop striving for perfection. By liberating ourselves in this way, we could begin to start afresh.
Steps 7-9 are critical for the alcoholic or addict who has caused all sorts of havoc and turmoil in their diseased state. But even if you haven’t crashed cars, spent all the family money or slept with random strangers (and don’t need to make profuse apologies), it’s still worth considering the value of self-reflection and openness here. These steps require a great deal of honesty and humility, which are noble and attractive qualities in any event.
Step 10: Continued to monitor our errant behaviours or addictive tendencies and when they showed up, promptly acknowledged them.
Step 11: Tried to be mindful and to meditate in order to feel to calm and part of a unifying collective energy. We learned to tap into and trust our intuition, our higher nature, our super consciousness or divine inspiration (however we felt comfortable describing it).
Step 12: Having become truly woke as the result of these steps, we tried to carry these messages to other fellows and those suffering during the C-19 pandemic.
Steps 10-12 can be generally and liberally applied to the human condition in all it’s fascinating and challenging forms. In the final steps, the sufferer who has been valiant enough to seek change and ask for help is reminded that triggers, destructive behaviour patterns/habits, runaway thoughts, and the illusion that we are separate from one another other should be kept diligently in check to protect our new-found serenity. We must all be aware by now that meditation and mindfulness can ease the journey of life in any event, but especially in an era of global pandemic. Finally, step 12 – helping others – is just as helpful in maintaining your own sanity as it’s always been and as our great spiritual teachers (and I include Bill W here) continue to remind us.
The 12 Steps of Recovery were originally written for Alcoholics Anonymous and first appeared in Alcoholics Anonymous AKA The Big Book as The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The suggestions in the AA program have been followed by millions of recovering alcoholics around the globe and this success has been emulated by hundreds of other support groups, not just for alcohol, but for numerous other addictions.
There are many online resources available to help if you are affected by the issues raised in this feature. Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups, for example, are currently holding online meetings via Zoom (which are attracting newcomers from all walks of life and may be less intimidating than attending in person). AA Zoom links and further help and support can be found on the AA web site: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk. (At the time of writing, these online recovery groups are being deemed a success in spite of some instances of trolling – as reported in The Guardian, 13th April. AA has issued the necessary guidelines for maintaining security and anonymity.)
Words: Jane Cooke
E mail: Jane Cooke firstname.lastname@example.org