Staying sober while staying home

Opinion: Columns

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Molly Feldheim

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'Hello, I'm Molly and I'm a recovering addict and alcoholic." Until recently, I would voice these words almost daily to a room full of people. We were gathered for the same reason: to recover from the disease of addiction. identifying as an addict has never been more important to me.

The pandemic has introduced unprecedented challenges for people in sobriety. It's especially important now to offer support for those wishing to get or stay sober. Here are some tools I have found useful. But let's also recognize that the hard-earned insights gained in our battle with this disease can also help others.

Practice Social Distancing, not Social Isolation - Three years ago, before I became sober, if someone had ordered me to stay inside my house doing nothing, I would have happily obliged. That's because addiction thrives on isolation. For us, it is more important than ever to stay socially connected. Call friends and family members, meet for video chats, and take walks with a family member or housemate.

Look into a 12-step program - Founded by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the 12-Step program has been the most successful approach in helping people get and stay sober. Many groups are conducting virtual meetings via Zoom for AA, Marijuana Anonymous (MA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and other addiction-recovery programs. You'll find a link to a list of Chicagoland AA meetings below. 

Fight Cravings with Alternative Activities - If sobriety's arch-villain is isolation, then its evil sidekick is boredom. In these conditions, thoughts of using or drinking can easily turn into cravings difficult to resist. Have a list of things to do instead. Take a walk, do a puzzle, take a shower, call a friend, cook or bake something — anything to get your mind off using.

Practice Gratitude, It Changes Everything - When it seems that everything is going poorly, it is even more important to remember things that are going right. Take some time to appreciate the little things — or the big things — for which you are thankful. It is easy for me to get swept up in how challenging sobriety can be, but then I remember: Thank goodness I am sober and clear-headed. Otherwise, it would be so much more difficult to cope effectively with all this turmoil.

Feel All Your Feelings Exactly as They Are - In active addiction, I used drugs to numb uncomfortable emotions — emotions I deemed unacceptable. In sobriety, I learned we cannot numb emotions because when we do, we also numb joy, love and excitement. Yesterday I went for a drive. It was beautiful out; I blasted some happy music, rolled my windows down and danced along to the melody. It was a glorious moment I would have missed had I been too busy getting high. Uncomfortable emotions will continue to arise from time to time. When they do, validate them and let them be. Just watch them pass by.

We all have a role in supporting each other through this crisis. If you, like me, have struggled with addiction, remember that you already possess a deep well of self-knowledge and strength to guide you in these difficult days. While others learn to support you, you can actually teach them how to live more fully in the moment, in joy and gratitude.

Molly Feldheim is a therapist at Thrive Counseling Center in Oak Park. Thrive Counseling Services is offering phone-based counseling and medication management to address our community's needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Crisis Intervention Services are still available by dialing 708-383-7500. Our Front Desk team is ready to assist you as well, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with requests for referrals or new services and to reschedule or cancel an appointment. Just call 708-383-7500.

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