Lately, I find myself in a constant state of exasperation. When I am talking with my husband, every other thought begins with something along the lines of….
“How can people be so __________?”
“I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to _______.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense.”
And if I am in a real mood, it is generally followed up with a one-word utterance: “Idiots!”.
I am running low on tolerance. After cooking dinner this weekend, I stood at the sink, washing dishes and once again talking out loud about how frustrated I am with people. At this point, Mark had zoned out and was watching the Olympics. Through my stream-of-consciousness soliloquy, I started to think about Al-Anon. Then I had a “duh” moment, realizing that the same principles of Al-Anon that I have used in personal relationships now apply to my role as a citizen of the United States during a public health crisis.
For those unfamiliar, Al-Anon is a 12 Step program for families and friends of alcoholics or those suffering from other addictions. My life has been impacted by addiction in numerous ways and I found my way to Al-Anon by way of a dear friend, back in 2013. I was just as exasperated then as I am now, but I was only contending with a handful of people.
Step one of Al-Anon is the same as AA:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Or the current remix:
We admitted we were powerless over COVID – that our lives had become unmanageable.
It is the 1-2-3 waltz. No matter how many meetings I have attended or how many times I have read the literature, I take steps forward and backwards. Living in South Florida during this pandemic has taken a major toll on my mental health and wellbeing. Everyday I am confronted with people that are trapped in their own “addictions” of willful ignorance, misinformation, and selfishness. Acknowledging my powerlessness over the situation is the first step of reclaiming my sanity (and serenity).
In addition to the steps, Al-Anon slogans are often the first thing newcomers are taught. They are memorable and easily accessible – especially when someone is emotionally distraught. A few that can be used for COVID include:
Let It Begin with Me
My adult child mind believes that I can “remedy” any situation. Sometimes I think my powers of persuasion can change a stubborn mind. The truth is that I can’t control anyone’s behavior but my own. If my metaphorical neighbor wants to litter his front yard with trash, I can either go and pick up the trash (enabling) or continue to complain, persuade, beg, etc. Both behaviors will eventually exhaust me and it ultimately makes sense to practice acceptance. Thus, I am leading the way by participating in the behaviors of accepting what is (and also taking care of my own yard).
If someone wants to refuse vaccination or walk around mask-less in a high transmission area, I can give away my serenity or choose to participate in responsible behaviors, hoping to lead by example.
Just For Today
“Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for 12 hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.”
Who isn’t exhausted? We have been at this since March 2020. How much longer will we deal with COVID? Will we need to wear masks forever? Will our vaccines provide lasting protection? How many variants will emerge and how good will they get at killing people?
Newcomers often receive a welcome pamphlet and inside is the “Just For Today” bookmark – a reminder that is essential for someone that easily gets caught up in the future. Adult children are especially predisposed to excessive worry because we have been kept on our toes constantly, trying to predict unpredictable behaviors.
I am not responsible for solving this problem. I don’t have to devote constant thought to this problem. Even though this is an uncertain time, I can give myself permission to seek support in things that I know are certain – my dog’s soft fur, books, TV shows, a walk or a warm chocolate chip cookie. This doesn’t look life some rigid self-improvement plan, but rather the recognition that we can take time to care for ourselves in a way that is meaningful.
Live and Let Live
Simply stated, detachment is a lot easier said than done. In relation to addiction, it can be especially tricky. How do you detach from someone you love that is suffering from active addiction? Or in the case of COVID, how do you detach from someone that is careless in their behavior and standing next to you at the checkout line?
Luckily, I don’t have anyone in my circle that isn’t taking precautions. My angst is with society. Al-Anon teaches: “Detachment allows us to let go of our obsession with another’s behavior and begin to lead happier and more manageable lives, lives with dignity and rights, lives guided by a Power greater than ourselves. We can still love [tolerate] the person without liking the behavior.” (brackets mine)
Another key principle:
“Not to prevent a crisis if it is the natural course of events”
Yup…you read right. Not to prevent a crisis if it is the natural course of events. Once a person is informed of their options, they then have free agency to decide what is best for themselves. Of course there is a lot of talk concerning COVID and “the social contract”, but I truly believe this principle applies. U.S. citizens are fortunate enough to have the resources to tackle this pandemic, but if someone declines vaccination and falls ill, it is their “bottom” that they will need to contend with.
Writing this post was a great reminder “to practice these principles in all of my affairs”. Let us all strive for serenity during these crazy, nonsensical times.