COVID-19, Burning Houses, and Love
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | July 23, 2020
I am close to a person who struggles with addiction. I suspect you are too.
During the pandemic she’s been chronically relapsing which isn’t so surprising – isolation breeds addictive behaviors and she’s very isolated right now – lost her job, living alone. She’s gotten worse and worse over the past few months.
Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a house burn down.
When I share her struggle with others the response is inevitably something like, “I’m so sorry. I have a friend who relapsed too,” or “My brother started using again,” or “My cousin is struggling to stay sober.” Just about everyone knows someone (or is someone) whose addiction has kicked up a few notches since March.
A recent survey from Johns Hopkins showed that mental health challenges have tripled during COVID-19. There’s also data showing that opioid overdoses have spiked.
When I feel overwhelmed by the weight of her struggle I return to a favorite book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate. It’s marked up, dog-eared, and water-stained by now. But just about every page offers something thought provoking or insightful.
“We shouldn’t underestimate how desperate a chronically lonely person is to escape the prison of solitude,” I read this morning. And a bit later, “…isolation is the very nature of addiction. Psychological isolation tips people into addiction in the first place, and addiction keeps them isolated because it sets a higher value on their motivations and behaviors around the drug than on anything else – even human contact.”
I’ve done a lot of listening, a lot of nodding, and, against my better judgement, unfortunately offered a lot of unsolicited advice. But I’m powerless here.
I return again and again to the fifth of the Niyamas, Īśvarapraṇidhāna – “take shelter in a higher power” – which of course is a mainstay of the 12 Step programs. Surrender.
Because what else can you do when you’ve tried everything?
Her struggle reminds me that during these trauma-inducing times, connection is critical and creating community is everything. So, regardless of how pointless it feels, I continue to reach out to her and reach in to my higher power. It’s all I can do.
My 16-year-old son has a pod of friends he’s been hanging out with (this is a critical developmental juncture in his young life). I’m getting to know the other moms because we are working together to try to keep the whole social network safe. I don’t think I would’ve ever spoken to some of them before this. Now we all text regularly, and share photos and anecdotes.
I feel driven toward community – to participate in and/or create it wherever and whenever I can. To wing it. To hack it. Who knows who is suffering and isolated and struggling? with depression, addiction, loneliness and/or grief?
“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. It’s all I can offer. It’s all that will help [you] in the end. If you are alone, you cannot escape addiction. If you are loved, you have a chance. For a hundred years we have been singing war songs about addicts. All along, we should have been singing love songs to them.” – Johann Hari
At the risk of sounding like a sticker on the bumper of an Asheville Subaru, love is the answer.
Which brings me back to Īśvarapraṇidhāna.
Īśvara is the personal entity that loves – all the time, unconditionally – even when we feel totally alone, helpless, neglected or forgotten.
Even if you are not suffering under the scourge of addiction, it’s hard to remember Īśvarapraṇidhāna. It’s easy to get swept up in all the human doingness and forget that being human is, fundamentally, an opportunity to give and receive love.
The people that we interact with are prisms for the universe’s infinite, radiant love – love that is illuminated by empathy, presence, care, attention, patience, listening, faith, and willingness.
As we move through the challenge of this pandemic, I believe in spite of the mental health crises, the political polarizing, the protracted isolation, and even the illness and death, that what is inevitably emerging is a stronger, brighter connection to each other, and an ever-expanding capacity to love.
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I love this piece about surrender and addiction, and, especially about ishvarapranidhana.
I was taught that this word, and this niyama, are the encapsulation of the Christian Lords Prayer.
I was also taught that the Christian Lords Prayer is guidance in how to locate one’s Higher Power (Lord, and, “Our Father”), and that the phrase, “who art in Heaven” represents that it is accessible within each person’s higher consciousness.
I loved your saying that you “reach IN to your Higher Power “.
My understanding as well.
Its an inside job.
Yes that’s my experience too Carollanne. Thank you for sharing. I love that connection with Christianity.
So very well stated Carollann. Kristine right on, Love IS the answer. Keep loving and reaching out to those who are really suffering and struggling. That is why we are here, to help each other.
I love this…and I feel the love, empathy, compassion and wisdom behind your words…. Thank you….
Thanks Kristine, as a person who’s suffered trauma over her life I can relate to everything said. Yoga came into my life for the Calm. As a yoga teacher myself now carrying the message of hope from the mat is monumental.
So beautiful Laura, thank you for sharing.
“As we move through the challenge of this pandemic, I believe in spite of the mental health crises, the political polarizing, the protracted isolation, and even the illness and death, that what is inevitably emerging is a stronger, brighter connection to each other, and an ever-expanding capacity to love.” This is certainly my hope and prayer!
This painful, troubling era has guided me to revisit 2 of my favorite books: Love Without Conditions by Paul Ferrini and The Ethics of Love by Vimala McClure. Your articles and yoga classes are a godsend as well. 🙏🏾
Thank you Charlotte. I love Vimala’s book too – wish it was still in print.
Beautiful, Kristine. Thank you. Two big things happened at the start of lockdown for me. I completed my 200 hours yoga teacher training 3 days before lockdown (serendipity?) and I upped my Shiraz intake… to the point where I KNEW, after years of negotiating and making deals with myself, I needed to stop – I wasn’t sure I could stop. It’s now been 90 days, it was tough, but my skin looks radiant, my eyes have a shine I’ve never seen before and I had energy and creativity to throw myself into teaching yoga. My teenage daughter and I are the closest we’ve ever been because, in her words last night, “you hear me now mum” (ouch).. it’s so important to have a cheer squad and as much support as possible. I get this from my yoga kula from the training,, my Yoga class clients (they teach me more than I teach them), reading about others struggles and how they coped, and my friends and family (although sometimes some family and friends need to be jettisoned 😬). AND, replace the addiction with nurturing self-love… Instead of buying wine, I’m going for a massage… see ya!❤️
oh wow congrats Kaye – that’s lovely. Thank you for sharing.
I’m sure you know that I empathize. I love the way that you unwrap unpack and give a wonderful resource for people who are going through that same difficulty, on either side either suffering personally from the addiction or having someone they love suffer. Are both sides of the equation it is truly reaching into the higher power that helps. And it is truly Solitude and isolation that are yes like throwing gas on a burning house the house of our soul. Thank you for all that you right I don’t always comment but I always get a lot out of it
Yes, Yes, Yes, Unconditional Love.
My husband shared this on his FB page recently. The power of love is not just limited to humans. Worth the watch: https://www.facebook.com/comebackkidsdodo/videos/357507278566672/UzpfSTEzMjIwNDQ4MjI6MTAyMTgwNzMxMDYzNjIxNTg/
Much love to you and your person. She is very fortunate to have one such as yourself in her life right now. You know you can’t fix her, right? but there is great healing power in knowing at least one other person gives a damn when you are in a dark place.
Your words are like truth whispered…the echo continues so it can be shared.
Thankyou, I don’t always respond, but I do see, and receive gratefully.
Much peace and hope for your friend.