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Recovery In Turbulent Times

by | Aug 1, 2022 | ComLine, Voices of Recovery

We May Encounter Unexpected Turbulence
Fasten your Seatbelt
Place your Mask over Nose and Mouth
Breathe Normally

“Keep your seatbelts fastened,” the pilot intoned, “in case we encounter unexpected turbulence.” I complied because, why not? It was no big deal, keeping the metal buckle clicked around my middle. In all my years of flying, I’d never experienced turbulence, not the kind where I might be catapulted out of my seat without being strapped down. Turbulence? A bit of bumpy air, perhaps, drinks jostled on the tray, a bit of sopping up with napkins. But real turbulence, the heart pounding kind? So far, on airline trips, I’ve been spared.

We May Encounter Unexpected Turbulence

But I know that heart-pounding feeling. It’s the kind of turbulence that fuels the addict’s mind—the kind of turbulence I grew up with as the daughter of a mercurial alcoholic – good dad/bad dad. I never knew. Just when you think it’s smooth flying, the plane lurches.

Place Your Mask Over Nose and Mouth

The last two years have ushered in a different form of turbulence, a feeling both inside and outside the rooms of recovery of being out of balance, afraid, unsure of the truth or of what to do next. Early in recovery, I may not have grasped the “next right thing,” but I knew the next wrong thing. The next wrong thing was to rely on the myth of self-control. But the COVID pandemic confronted me with choices about the next right thing. Initially, I thought I knew what the next right thing was – put on a mask and isolate from others. That worked—for a while, kind of like just going to meetings works for a while. But eventually, distrust filtered in like a virus that seemed determined to evade all my precautions. 

Breathe Normally

I believed the CDC, like the pilot assuring me I’d be safe if I masked up, stayed six feet apart. I could breathe normally, avoid the emergency room, the respirators, the harried doctors and nurses overwhelmed with the dying. I could avoid having my last glimpse of husband or children be only through plexiglass or on a computer screen.

We May Encounter Unexpected Turbulence.

Then the message changed. I’d be safe if I got a COVID vaccine. Then another. Then a booster. Then the virus morphed. I was told the vaccine would protect me. Maybe. But soon, folks who were vaccinated started getting sick. I was told, “well, there’s sick and there’s sick. They aren’t dying–they recover.” These changing messages all created a turbulence, as a sense of distrust settled in, like a pesky passenger in the seat next to mine who strikes up a conversation I can’t avoid, trapped in seat 23B. I felt perpetually trapped in the middle seat of my mind.

Fasten Your Seatbelt 

So I began to take risks, risks that seemed manageable, fastened into the seatbelt of what I thought I knew. I didn’t expect the controversy as I found myself having to explain my choices. Some friends were appalled when I flew to Austin, Texas from Connecticut to see my grandkids. “I’d never do that. It’s not safe!” they’d protest. I wore two masks, even put on latex gloves. One friend warned me to beware of toilets in the airport. The virus, she said, could fly out of the toilet and attack my bare bottom. I listened, responded with the “uh huh,” that I’d learned in early recovery when talking to a newcomer stuck in their story, unable to grasp the tools of recovery.

Place your Mask over Nose and Mouth

I decided to average down my odds of getting COVID by not going to the grocery store. Picked up bags of groceries in a parking lot that I’d ordered online. I relied on Amazon to deliver life’s necessities. The turbulence caused by the pandemic moved like ripples in a pond when you throw in a stone. 

We May Encounter Unexpected Turbulence

Meetings moved online. I was grateful that the turbulence outside the rooms stayed safely outside. “We have no opinion on outside issues” seemed more a lifesaver than a slogan as some people refused to wear masks or get vaccinated. When a woman in a meeting recently broke down in tears over the shootings in Uvalde, my insides clenched. “That’s an outside issue!” I thought. I don’t feel safe!

Breathe Normally

I guess, on balance, that’s a good thing. I guess the outside issue rule keeps us safe from controversy and anger and an endless debating society. But sometimes I wonder, if the huge divide in our country isn’t the proverbial elephant in the living room many of us grew up with as children, pretending not to acknowledge or address the alcoholism or other dysfunction in our families. I’m glad I’m safe. But is the cost of breathing normally avoiding people with different views? 

In recovery, I can quell the turbulence outside in the world and inside in my mind. Listening to repeated recovery themes reminds me that I can build trust in a program of recovery. I can claim my seat, like that middle seat on the aircraft, looking to left and right to help another alcoholic. I can develop trust in a power greater than myself, relying on the collective wisdom of the group to overcome my ego, my strong conviction that I know what should or will happen next. I can cover my mouth, refrain from voicing my opinions or giving advice and filter what I say through a mask of kindness, compassion, and love. 

We are living in turbulent times, a turbulence that mirrors that craziness of addiction. But the message of recovery is every bit as powerful as the pilot’s advice. In the rooms of recovery, I can translate the pilot’s words into a message that quells the turbulence:


Trust a Greater Power
Stay in my Seat
Help the Person Next to Me
Breathe.

Christine B

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