The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely pushed many systems and routines off track: healthcare, businesses, schools, the government, and women like us in recovery from alcohol use disorder.
The world operates on systems. Why? Because systems provide organization, principles and procedures to ensure all efforts, no matter how small, work together to accomplish an overall goal. They include routines and contingency plans for when those routines are disrupted, to ensure if forced off track, they can get back on track.
Society’s response to the pandemic has created a lot of chaos, which for the most part, is out of our control, and there’s nothing we can do about that. However, our personal system, our routines and support structure, is what we absolutely can do something about. Let’s explore how to use the same strategies under different circumstances and adapt them to get us through this crisis with our recovery becoming even stronger.
Building Our System
William Edward Deming, a statistician credited with teaching quality controls that helped make Japan an industrial powerhouse after World War II, said, “Your systems are perfectly designed to get the results that you are getting.” In other words, a system that is not very good will bring results which are not very good. Deming also said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” So, if we are highly motivated in our recovery and have every intention to live a life free from alcohol, but our system is weak, then our recovery is in jeopardy. So, how can we have a strong, effective, and purposeful system to power our sobriety?
Initially, we need to look at our goals and desires. Our goals and desires are what light a fire under us, they push and encourage us to achieve our objectives. They help us in choosing the right routines, and those routines create our lives. It’s our routines that help us swim with the current to get us to our destination, despite the sharks along the way. So, let’s get ready to swim!
In recovery, we want to stop addictive behavior. Often, this means stopping old habits and routines. However, when we remove an old habit, we need to replace it with another enriching or supportive habit, or a void will be created, and it will be likely filled with something not as helpful. So, this is an opportunity to upgrade our behaviors, to do meaningful, healthy and productive things.
For example, my number one goal when I left 30 days in inpatient rehab and entered recovery was staying sober; therefore, all my routines and systems were geared towards my sobriety. My secondary goal was to heal my body, mind, and spirit. So, my day’s or week’s activities looked something like this:
- Wake up, reconfirm my goals to stay sober through spiritual connection, asking for help and strength to have a happy sober day.
- Drink coffee or tea while jumping on Facebook and commenting in sober and recovery groups often helping people who were just starting their recovery.
- Attend AA or SMART recovery meetings (now, online meetings are excellent choices). Note: Al-Anon meetings are excellent for codependency issues which is applicable to many women in recovery.
- Listen to a podcast on relapse prevention.
- Eat a healthy lunch and dinner.
- Walk my dog; enjoy the beauty of the neighborhood and mountainous scenery.
- Enjoy healthy snacks.
- Drink lots of water.
- Talk to my sponsor, daily.
- Work with a recovery coach (once a week).
- Remove or limit TV media news.
- Meet with an addiction counselor (once a week).
- Yoga followed by a brief mediation.
- Read recovery related books (often reading passages from several texts including the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Hazelden’s Daily Meditations for Women, plus something inspirational for women in recovery.
- Avoid all extremes and known triggers or stressors, including conversation on politics or issues that bothered me.
- Bedtime routine including journaling on day’s reflection, positive self-affirmations, “wins,” and gratitude.
Now it’s your turn. Take out a piece of paper and pen or key into the computer, your routines for a typical day or week. Write everything that comes to mind you’d like to include, considering the limitations of the current stay-at-home mandate. You might have additional items like family games, puzzles, movie night, etc.. which is popular at this moment in time. Then, look at what you can fit into your day or week. Creating healthy and supportive routines keeps most things on autopilot, so that when things do come up, we have ample reserve energy to handle it.
Another system I learned in my intensive outpatient program (IOP) is “Plan, Prevent, and Prepare.” A good example of this is, let’s say you have an event to attend. First, you would plan ahead to arrive fashionably late to avoid a long cocktail hour. Second, you would prevent things from getting too stressful by bringing someone with you. Lastly, you might prepare ahead of time by letting the host know you’ll only be able to stay a short while. The idea is to keep surprises to a minimum, which will keep you in control during early recovery.
Finally, you want to have systems in place for when you are triggered or are stressed. For example, having a plan that says, “If I get a craving, I will (fill in the blank with what you might do).” “If I think about buying liquor, I will call someone, get on an online meeting, etc.” “If I start to feel stressed out, I will do some exercise, get outside in nature, do breathing exercises and meditate, etc.” This will create a safety net plan, help prevent backsliding or even relapse, and prepare you with actions you can take.
Remember that with every change and challenge, there is a golden opportunity. During this period, instead of looking at it as being isolated, it’s an opportunity to slow down. You’ve been given a gift of time, with possibly little distractions, to evaluate your priorities. Take this time and assess your goals and desires. Look at what’s working and what is not and upgrade your habits to nourish and support your recovery journey. Try to see the silver lining in the opportunities presented today; after all, today is all we have.