I turn the faucet on and sing “Happy Birthday.” Twice.
To stop the spread of the coronavirus, I obey the government guidelines- social distancing, isolation, and staying healthy. What I can’t wash off is the most life-changing birthday of my life. The day my husband abandoned “for better or worse,” the vow we both had promised to follow decades earlier. Bob told me he’d had enough of my nagging. He was moving out—losing me in order to “find himself.”
But that was then. Today, COVID-19 has resulted in social rules that radically alter my way of life. The changing sets of do’s and don’ts saturate cable news channels daily, challenging my mood and state of mind. The reality is inescapable. It’s up to us to flatten the deadly coronavirus curve by complying with these life-saving mandates:
- Wash your hands.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Maintain a six-foot distance between yourself and others.
- Avoid groups of 10 or more.
- Stay home, especially if you are over 60 or have any underlying health conditions.
Decades ago, my divorce forced me to adjust to a new set of rules. It was up to me to implement healthy changes or spiral downward into a toxic abyss. After much resistance, and with the help of Al-Anon, I regained my footing and—more importantly—my sense of self-worth.
Skewed as it was, I began to see how my need to control my husband’s alcohol abuse was the thread that held the fabric of our dysfunctional marriage together. In time, and stitch by stich, our relationship unraveled. If I wanted to survive, I realized, I would have to reinvent myself. This would mean taking the do’s and don’ts of the 12-Step program seriously.
Which I did.
These days when I listen to the nonstop pandemic news, I have an intervening sense of peace. I find myself using the skills I gained from support groups to cope with the current crisis. Despite the restrictive parameters, isolation, social distancing, empty grocery shelves, stock market plummets, and ever-rising death count, fear is not my constant companion. In contrast, I was always anxious during my painful divorce negotiations.
Although this unexpected health disaster is the most impactful drama I’ve been through since my marriage fell apart, my demeanor remains calm. I question why I haven’t reverted to my fatalist controlling behavior of the past.
Long, meditative walks revealed the answer. The directives for COVID-19—the isolation, social distancing and staying healthy, mounting bills, death of life as I knew it—I had been through this drill before.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease; year after year, my husband’s substance abuse spiked higher and higher. His mood swings made me long for self-isolation. When he passed out in his recliner with a half-empty pilsner of beer, I skillfully lifted the glass out of his limp hand. It was my time to commandeer the TV remote and find solitude in a classic film noir. With my spouse snoring aside me, why I chose to relax with a chain-smoking, booze-drinking Humphrey Bogart flick was a subject for my therapist and me.
On weekends, I wore my designated driver hat and chauffeured my husband to his nights out “with the guys.” If I didn’t drive him, he’d get in an accident and kill someone, I was sure of it. I hated the time we spent in crowded, noisy bars. His excessive drinking embarrassed me. Back then, I would have welcomed the social distancing mandate. Instead, I counted the hours until I could drive him home and shelter in place.
My outlook on life changed the day my husband and I separated. I began to understand the value of letting serenity lead. Sadly, my spouse was not willing to admit he had a problem. My once loving husband did not know he would spend the second half of his shortened life alone. Without his wife and kids.
But he did.
In the era of coronavirus, we have decisions to make. We can choose to live with fear, or we can take action. We can help flatten the curve by taking steps to stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Embracing the spiritual guidelines of the 12-Steps has helped to lessen my anxiety during this uncertain time.
Dr. Vicki L. LoPachin, Chief Medical Officer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, has called it, “the humanitarian mission of our lifetimes.” Those of us who live or have lived with addiction are on a similar humanitarian mission. Involvement in 12-Step support groups will help equip us to deal with whatever comes our way—one day at a time. To stay ahead of the curve, codependents have to learn to take care of ourselves first. Then and only then are we strong enough to follow the COVID-19 mandates- social distancing, isolation, and staying healthy, and the wisdom of the 12th Step to “carry this message to others.”
Diane Jellen has worked at several treatment facilities in PA, FL, and the School District of Palm Beach County Alternative Education Department. Diane is the award-winning author of My Resurrected Heart: A Codependent’s Journey to Healing, and My Heaven Heals a Codependent’s Heart available at www.dianejellen.com.