Magnifying Glass of Isolation
With everything that is going on maintaining sobriety and trying to take care of our mental health is difficult. There is a lot of anxiety, loneliness, and isolation - all of which add more challenges in keeping one's head on straight.
For me, being one that has a head that is always askew, I have found the past 10 days very difficult. I haven't felt at risk in my sobriety, but mentally and emotionally, I have not been well. I am working as hard as I can to look after myself while being of good cheer for those around me. I understand what is happening and I suppose understanding it is growth..
This period of isolation and social distancing has meant eliminating much of what I have built into my daily life over the past year that has kept me safe mentally. Stripping away everything and boiling it down to just to the basics, has exposed and magnified the significant holes that remain. My life, at its most naked place, feels incredibly empty and the deep sadness I am experiencing throughout much of each day has become emotionally draining. I am finding myself tired, sleeping more, and for the first time in a long time, I am heard the faint whispers of self-harm.
Fortunately, after years of fighting against such thoughts bereft of any helpful knowledge and skill, my work in counselling has given me both. I am now well armed with tools to combat such darkness; I understand where it comes from, and I am strong enough to use them. I accept that not everything goes away, which means I have had to shift my focus from trying to remove it from my life to learning how to live with it in the best way possible. Mostly, I can do this. While it doesn't eliminate the darkness, it has lessened the lengths of time in which I feel consumed and debilitated by it. That is a long way from where I was.
For me, the most effective tool I have is exposure. I have learned that my most uncomfortable thoughts die in the light. Writing about it, saying it out loud, and sharing it always takes its power away. Like a vampire of thought, it seems to recoil when the sunlight of openness shines upon it. My lifelong attempts to bury such thoughts, to push things deep inside, and eventually dull them with substances nearly led to my ultimate demise. I am no longer afraid to share such things; I am not embarrassed by them, and I don't believe I am weak for experiencing them. Today I am living with my mental illness, not dying with it.
However, quelling this feeling of deep personal emptiness I have been experiencing is going to require a lot of work on my part. While I have found healthier ways to distract myself during regular living, the lack of what I value the most but do not have, is crystal clear at this time of isolation. I realize no longer do I want a deeper connection with the special people in my life - it has become a need.
In an earlier blog, Becoming Fearless, I wrote about removing fear from my life. I suppose it has become time to walk the walk regarding my family and my children.
Counselling exposed my trust issues. I didn't trust anyone. I may have thought I did, but I did not. I could see that, and I understood why. Rooted deep inside emotional trauma, this self-defence mechanism played destructive havoc in every close personal relationship in my life. Hyper vigilant to the possibility of being hurt, fostered a world devoid of trustworthiness. I didn't trust, and I was untrustworthy. My inability to allow anyone in perceived positions of authority, especially men, to see weakness or my mistakes was a recipe for disaster both personally and professionally. Not trusting anyone with the truth turned me into a habitual lair long before I turned to alcohol, which only made it much worse. Thankfully, I have come a long way in that regard.
Learning to trust another human being was one of the hard steps I had to take. It took a very long time to reach a level of trust with my counselor, Jennifer, and until I did, our work together reaped little fruit. I give her a lot of credit for sticking with me as my walls slowly came down. Once I had reached a level of complete trust in her, the results came quickly and I experienced profound change.
Even having experienced how powerful and beneficial trust can be, I still find it extremely difficult. I can write raw, personal truths and freely share them with my readers, but I struggle to open up completely to those closest to me. It is not their fault, but the barriers remain and in order to open up so that those I love can get closer to me, I have to be fearless about what that may mean. I don't see any way to change my personal life without finding more courage. Like anything in life, the best changes are usually the hardest.
Perhaps we are all going to come out of this COVID-19 experience changed in our own personal ways. I know this experience has forced a mental shift in me that was confusing at first, but clearer now. This has been one of the very few life experiences that is being shared by every living human being and will be for a long time.
While there has been and will be much loss and grief, I truly hope that the changes to come are truly positive ones. For all of us.