Staying Sober in a Time of Crisis

Reaching for the bottle to suppress stress but think you might not want to? Let’s talk. Place the bottle back on the counter and give me three minutes.

Let’s look at what’s happening. Not in the world at large—the virus outbreak is catapulting us into a collective state of mass hysteria, we know that—but inside your own brain. Look there.

Your brain is the same model humans came installed with two million years ago and it hasn’t upgraded much since then. It runs a very basic software system designed to keep you safe. Its only concern is survival. When we’re in survival mode, we’re completely in our heads, as if we don’t even have hearts (or guts). Any perceived threat—real or imagined—and your head convinces you to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

Any perceived threat. Enter COVID-19.

Suddenly, we’re in the gladiator ring with a real live bloodthirsty lion and all the evidence we need to induce panic.

When we panic, our brains step up to the plate. Like parents, they’re here to protect us, not make us happy. That’s what we have hearts for. The key is to recognize what’s happening and allow it to be normal instead of terrifying. In times like this, we must dig deep to surpass our survival instincts and call up our sanity from down below.

Breathe. Ask: Will getting drunk keep me safe from the lion? How will I feel tomorrow? Am I likely to drink even more the next day?

Ask: What is scarier—the likelihood that I’ll contract the virus or the overwhelming sense that there’s an uncertain shift happening all over the world? (For me, it’s the shift and the whole world thing.)

Breathe. Basic math: We tell ourselves we’re scared about the worldwide chaos. We fixate on this feeling, riling up our bodies with nervous energy. Our problem solver brains cannot tell the difference between nervousness and an actual threat to our lives (lions!), so they swoop in with an immediate solution to get us out of our current high stress situation. Tequila shots!

1) Negative Internal Monologue + Fixation = Stress
2) Unchecked stress signals our brains to come up with immediate solutions.
3) Untrained brains come up with bad solutions.

From here we have options.

Drink. It’s worked in the past. Except has it though? Maybe we’re only remembering the first waves of nostalgia of past experiences. Play those movies to the end. You have one drink and start to relax. Two drinks so you can really chill. Oops . . . three . . . OK no big deal, check your social media real quick and <<BOOM>> the panic strikes. It’s chaos out there.

Now you’re up to five drinks and the world is crashing down around you. You’re face planting onto your bed and waking up to a room that’s spinning, a nasty taste in your mouth resembling stomach acid, and a sun that’s way too frickin’ bright already. Crap! That is totally not what you meant to do!

Swing the pendulum to the other side.

Don’t drink, just panic. Glue yourself to the news. Hoard sanitizer and toilet paper or freak out in the middle of the aisle when it becomes clear that there’s none left to hoard. Send your adrenal system into overdrive and, for goodness sake whatever you do, do not relax or stay calm for one minute. The lions are here and they’re hungry for blood!

Riddle me this. Is there a third option, a middle way?

Take positive action. Re-train your brain.

Drinking alcohol is an action—a weak, messy, useless one. You know it’s not your friend. You know it’s lying about relieving stress and really just stuffing it down into your toes where it continues to build. But you drink it up because all you really want is to hit snooze on the alarm.

Ask yourself: How can I slow the panic, not for the whole world, but for myself and those closest to me?

Community is the antidote to stress and addiction. And right now we just have to get a little creative. Go on a Skype date. Have coffee with friends on Zoom. FaceTime your BFF and play long-distance charades with her kids. (Seriously, I just did that and it rocked my stress-addled heart straight back to love.) Do this immediately. Don’t even finish this post, just pick up your phone and call (don’t text) a friend. Creatively connect again and again and again. (And be prepared to wake up tomorrow and do it again.)

You are always worthy of peace and serenity. You always deserve a good night’s rest. Take responsibility for how you are reacting to this unexpected experience. Pass on the bottle and breathe.

Today’s To Do:

Find solace in mapping new positive territory within your internal landscapes.
Slow down. Take a look at everything. All the scary. All the good.
Ask questions before you drink.
Care for your tomorrow-self today.
Choose to live in love 💛 and light 💡

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