In February, I wrote in this blog about nostalgia in recovery.Well, we all know what’s happened since then.
Nostalgia might be common in general during COVID-19. It’s understandable to look back on just a few months ago with some wistfulness. And at a time of significantly heightened stress, those of us in recovery may long for the days when we could numb out.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I looked at people who could drink with some envy—must be nice not to have to stay stone-cold sober through this. At least, that was my thinking then.
The most important thing to remember—which I had to remind myself a lot around March—is that drinking or using would make things much worse. Using substances isn’t some luxury that we lost the privilege to do. It’s actually a privilege in disguise to be sober during the pandemic.
We all need to be clear-headed to make sound decisions and keep ourselves safe. Substances, especially when chronically used, make emotions more incomprehensible and difficult to process. In recovery, you learn to sit with difficult feelings. It would be disastrous for mental health to try to numb out. Ultimately all of the emotions would come back stronger and more unmanageable.
And overuse of substances can put people at higher risk of getting sicker with COVID-19. The World Health Organization released a fact sheetsaying that chronic alcohol use increases the likelihood of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome—one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.
I talked in my last blog on nostalgiaabout “playing the tape through to the end.” This is when you let your memory continue past whatever you’re romanticizing about your substance using days—and get to the inevitable consequences. It’s easy and common for the bad parts to seem diluted with time.
For me, playing the tape through during a pandemic is especially enlightening. When I imagine myself dealing with the mess my life had become in active addiction during a major crisis—I want to stay far away.
It’s helpful to not only think about why you shouldn’t use, but also why it’s good that you’re sober. Stress and addiction are closely linked.There is overlap between reward-seeking parts of the brain—which play a huge role in addictive behaviors—and areas involved in modulating stress. At this time of heightened stress, it may be extra important to interrupt nostalgic thoughts with reminders of why sobriety is so important right now.
If you can’t remind yourself, ask a supportive person in your life to do so. People close to you have probably either experienced your active addiction days, or heard you talk about why you’re sober. They can talk you down.
It could also be a nice exercise to write down reasons you’re sober and give it to someone in your life. Writing it down can help you feel more connected to your sobriety, and if you’re ever struggling the person can read it back to you.
Anyone in recovery has experience sitting with complex feelings. Nostalgia is just another one of those feelings. And people in recovery are uniquely equipped to face all the emotions a pandemic may cause head-on.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder during the pandemic, there is hope. TruHealing Centers is open throughout the crisis, with hospital-grade sanitization of our facilities so that you can be safe in our care. At our recovery centers across the country, we will empower you with the tools you need to live a life in long-term sobriety. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.