What a way to start the Spring! Huh?! This whole virus situation has got a lot of us scared. We are unsure of the future and uncertain of choices we are making in the present. Some of us want to hunker down and hibernate, emerging next Winter with a renewed sense of hope, others may want to bug out and run away, and there are those who are frozen with a fear of the unknown. There are many different reactions we can have to this situation, but I think one thing is certain – none of us have ever been ‘here’ before. I wonder if we can give ourselves permission to just breathe and consider that idea for a moment.
A friend once told me a story about a business man traveling to a city in India. I had been freaking out when some painful memories and unfamiliar feelings came up in my first year of sobriety. She told me this guy had been very successful, always on top of his game, was always getting these prestigious ‘worker of the year’ awards at his job. So this man, travels to India for an important business meeting. He’d successfully made flight arrangements, he’d successfully located transportation from the airport once he’d landed, he’d made it to the city with some time to spare. Now, traveling for business was familiar to him and he didn’t think anything of it when he stopped for a bite to eat on his way to the meeting. Only after wandering around the city for several hours did he start to panic. The old ‘inner critic’ came out to play (you know, those self-doubting thoughts that make us begin to question our competence). That ‘inner critic’ reminded him of what an idiot he was, how he could never get anything right, how he’d be fired for sure and no one else would have ever made such a big mistake. He looked at his map, rubbed his eyes and cleaned his glasses, pulled ever so slightly on his hair and adjusted his shirt over and over as sweat started to pool in the curve of his lower back. Finally, exhausted from fighting with himself he sat down on the side of the road and decided to give up. Feelings of hopelessness crept in, tears welled up in his eyes, and his chest felt tight. He looked up hoping to see something familiar – a street sign, a shop that he’d seen before – but, he recognized nothing around himself. Then, suddenly it occurred to him that he had never seen ANY of these things EVER before. He’d never felt panic before, he’d never had to navigate situations like this before. His ‘inner critic’ began to retreat as he realized that he couldn’t possibly be an idiot or fool or hopeless or lost because he had literally never been to this place before. Of course he didn’t know where he was, of course it was confusing and frustrating, of course he was still just as competent as he was when he booked the flight last month. Just because he wasn’t able to find his way to the meeting immediately didn’t mean that he would never find his way or that he was incapable of performing his job. All it really meant was that he needed directions from someone familiar to the area. With a renewed sense of hope he popped up and started again, this time locating someone who could help him find his way. And best of all he was able to to that while still feeling shaken and confused.
My point in writing out that entire story is this – we are not meant to know what it’s like to survive this COVID-19 crisis because we’ve never had to before. Anyone alive right now has never been through a viral pandemic. No one. There are of course people who are unfortunately used to surviving extreme adversity through war, chronic illness, physical / emotional / sexual abuses, or mass shootings. Those folks may have a more primed fight or flight system, which may be an advantage or disadvantage in this situation – it depends. Either way, I hope that reading that story about the ‘lost’ business man can bring some sort of solid comfort. Obviously it’s just a story that my friend made up to help me, but it was actually very helpful. When I feel lost or hopeless or confused or scared or even really angry about something these I pause for a moment and remember that I have never been ‘here’ before. I’ve never experienced this situation, so in this moment I am learning how to cope through it. My previous experiences with adversity do help and will continue to help, but just because I’ve survived some other scary situations doesn’t mean I can’t struggle sometimes right now. It doesn’t mean that I should be able to figure out how to manage on my own. I didn’t get sober or mentally healthy on my own, so I don’t have to get through this on my own. Neither do you. And, even when you are getting help and feeling more hopeful, you are still allowed to feel scared and shaken and confused. Just think, What Would the Businessman Do?