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.