Well, this is interesting.
You and I are living at a time like no other in the history of the world. Never before have major pro-sports been on hold for a month. Never before has the NCAA March Madness tournament been canceled. Never before have events like the Boston Marathon and the PGA Masters Tournament been postponed. Our kids are unexpectedly out of school for weeks—if not months—and many places of work and business are either taking a hiatus from normal activity or shutting down completely. We are in wild, unnavigated territory, to be sure!
Apart from all of the medical and financial concerns, this season of the coronavirus presents many challenges for men and women who are walking in recovery from addiction and any kind of unwanted sexual behavior in their lives. These challenges, much like the pandemic we are experiencing, can come upon us quite suddenly. We may find ourselves being pulled into some old, negative behaviors before we even realize what’s happening.
Here are four ways we can survive and thrive during the coronavirus season, no matter how long this “new normal” lasts:
Have you ever noticed how much news we will watch during a pending snowstorm or other natural disasters? As a society, we become glued to the TV or the phone, not wanting to miss the latest development or breaking story. The same exact phenomenon is happening with the coronavirus. We’re constantly on our phones, computers, and other devices to listen to the latest presidential news briefing, hear updates on infection and mortality rates, or be the first to know about closures or other major disruptions.
No matter the reason, more time on social media and news outlets is rarely, if ever, a positive thing for those of us in recovery. Very often, we will come away from this interaction feeling more anxious and more unsettled than we did before. We also open ourselves up to a multitude of other potential triggers. Clickbait ads, photos posted on social media, and fear-based marketing can pull our thoughts toward unhealthy places.
The truth is that if we really need to know something, we will find out about it without much work or effort. It’s so easy to get caught in “over-researching.” Even though we know to wash our hands, limit social interaction, and be aware of the symptoms of a possible case, to continue studying and searching beyond this, we should ask if we are not simply opening ourselves up to greater temptation beyond the virus itself?
Make a determination now that you will not increase your use of social media or news outlets during this time. Whatever level of interaction with these sites you have currently—whatever you have found to be healthy and sustainable for you—should continue to be your guideline. If you have guardrails around your use of media outlets, continue to follow them. Be upfront with your group, or a friend in recovery with you, about your temptations and commit to being accountable to them during this time. Maintaining a healthy relationship with our media consumption during these weeks is vital to continue our emotional health and freedom.
Many of us, if not all, will be spending more time with our spouses and children than we have in quite some time! With school, practices, church, concerts, conferences and possibly our jobs all canceled or moved off-site, the family will be home—with nothing to do—far more than we have come to expect. We all love our families. We all cherish time together. But what very few people want to talk about is the reality that when our schedule and rhythms get disrupted, we can become grumpy, frustrated, and angry, even with the people we love most.
Perhaps our morning routine, normally quiet and peaceful, is suddenly filled with people who have nowhere to go. Maybe our healthy outlet like a team sport or a night out with friends is no longer possible. Or it could be that we’re needing to work from home and be productive, but the constant refrain of “I’m bored!” from one of our kids throws us for a loop. No matter what alteration we face, this can be a challenging time.
Give yourself and your family grace. A new normal is rarely achieved quickly. If you make some mistakes early on—if you step on each other’s toes or lose your cool—be the one to humble yourself and apologize. Be open and honest to communicate how you are feeling. Ask for help where you need it, and graciously offer your assistance to what they might need.
In truth, this time frame could become a great gift to every one of us.
So lean into this time.
We often say, “I just don’t have enough time with my kids,” “My spouse and I are so busy that it’s hard to do a date night,” or “My schedule is so full that quiet time with the Lord is tough.” For the first time, perhaps in a long time, our excuses for busyness and distraction could be gone. Take advantage of the opportunities to be a couple and to be a family.
While everything seems to be being canceled, relationships don’t have to be. Take a walk. Get outside together. Enjoy the people God has given you!
As we shift our expectations that normal events will get postponed or canceled, what we may not be expecting is the sense of loss or disappointment we may feel over what is missing.
I know that on a personal level, my wife and I have been eagerly anticipating our freshman daughter’s track season. Our daughter has worked hard—she ran all winter—with her eyes on some big personal records this season. The harsh reality is that her entire season might be off the books. Our daughter is already fearful of this loss, and as her parents, so are we!
I know in the scope of the world this may not seem like a huge deal, but it is to us. And if it matters to us personally, then it is a big deal. If my daughter’s track season is completely washed out, I will have a loss that I need to face. I will have negative emotions. I will feel anger at the virus, at the decision-makers, and at life in general. Like any negative emotion, I will have to decide whether to let that emotion drive me to unhealthy places, or to face the emotion and go through the grieving cycle.
And so will you. Is it a family trip that gets indefinitely postponed? A major concert you’ve had circled on your calendar for months? A conference you were preparing to speak at? The list could go on and on. Somewhere in your world, you will have a loss during this time. With so much else happening in the world, few will notice it, but this loss will matter to you.
So take some time to process what you are feeling. Be open with your spouse or your group about what you are grieving. Allow yourself to feel the pain, without beating yourself up for being “weak.” It is okay that these things matter! When we face the pain—rather than avoid it—we can continue to grow and pursue greater joy.
I can almost guarantee that at some point in this coronavirus season, some aspect of it will induce fear, panic, or stuck thinking. Our fears might be different. Some will feel the fear over the condition of the economy and a plummeting retirement plan. Others will face fears about losing employment and income. And many will feel the impact of fear over coming down with virus or seeing a loved one get ill.
All of these fears have a legitimate basis right now. The key is not to avoid fear or act like it doesn’t matter. The real key is to pay attention to where fear takes you. Does fear take you down a rabbit hole into greater panic, obsessive anxiety, and irrational thinking? Or, will you allow the presence of fear to be the very thing that takes you into the presence of God and His love for you?
The most repeated command in all of Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” In fact, I’ve heard that it can be found 366 times—one for each day, including leap day! Whether this is true or not (you all can research it for me), it is clear that God cares about our tendency to fear. In fact, He is the very one who created our brains with the ability to be afraid. So, in the Bible, when God or Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” He is not condemning you for your fear. Rather, God is calling you to a way of dealing with your fear. Do you know what the most common follow up to the command “Do not be afraid” is? It is the promise, “For I am with you.” Let that sink in. The God of ages, the Prince of Peace, is with you.
So, in this crazy season, what practices do you need to implement—or continue—in order to take all your fear into the presence of God? Now would be a great time to look at the outer circle of your Three Circles Relapse Prevention Tool and ask, “What healthy habits do I have in place that remind me to trust God?” You could take extra time in the morning or at night to meditate. You could begin to take a walk at noon to pray and reflect on creation. You could use a prayer app (I love one called, “Centering Prayer”) to remind you to pause and pray. These healthy, repeated habits become our greatest antidote to the death-spiral of fear.
Right now, you and I have very, very little control over what is happening in the world around us. What we do have is incredible control over our response. This coronavirus season can either be one we look back on with great regret and sadness, or this can be a season of renewed relationships with God and others. Which one will it be? The answer to this question is entirely up to you.
May these be days of great opportunity and growth for each one of us. I pray we stay healthy and near to Jesus throughout this time.
Nick is the Executive Director of Pure Desire Ministries. He has been in leadership for 15+ years. He was in Pastoral Ministry at East Hills Alliance Church in Kelso, Washington, for 14 years. Nick has a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Studies from Crown College and an MDiv from Bethel Seminary. He has authored two books, Setting Us Free and Safe: Creating a Culture of Grace in a Climate of Shame.