Hurricanes. Fires. Shootings. The headlines are filled with tragedies.
No one wants to get caught up in an emergency situation or tragedy, but good people sometimes go through bad things or are exposed to unexpected crisis situations.
Some situations are national calamities, but a crisis can result from any difficult situation or loss. And people in recovery are especially vulnerable in times of trouble.
That’s why it is important to be vigilant about self-care and the best way to start is to have a recovery disaster preparedness plan in place for relapse prevention.
Prepare In Advance
“Tragedies hit people in recovery harder than others,” says Erin Wiley, MA, LPCC. One of the reasons for this is that recovery makes people very open and empathic and they pick up easily on the pain of others and it can trigger their own trauma. “Preparing ahead of time to deal with horrible news can keep you balanced when it feels like the world is falling apart,” Wiley says.
Here are some ways to put relapse prevention in place and protect your emotional health.
1. Breathe and relax.
Utilizing mindfulness techniques — taking a few minutes each day to fully concentrate on you and your breathing — can help you maintain your focus on being calm and relaxed. “Being in the here-and-now allows you to start your day with a calm demeanor,” says Nancy Brooks, M.S., PsyD. Studies show mindfulness can help reduce the desire to drink, so take as many opportunities as possible to do this throughout stressful times. “It helps your brain chemistry and gives you a break from producing stress hormones such as cortisol,” she says. “It can be a go-to move when hard times happen.”
2. Have sober support.
People in recovery are faced with challenges every day. And when a disaster strikes or an emergency occurs, it is especially hard not to seek comfort in old, familiar habits. For relapse prevention, research points to the importance of staying connected to your mentor, sponsor, clergy or support group. Connecting with people who know you, and who have supported you previously, is a source of great comfort when you are struggling. Don’t try and handle the pain and emotion of tragedies alone. Find strength in the community you have built in your sobriety and let them support you emotionally when you need it.
3. Allow for emotional help.
An ongoing relationship with a therapist who is the right match can help you process feelings if you’ve been caught in the crossfire of a disaster, or have witnessed a loved one or others suffer. “Develop a relationship with a great therapist,” says Wiley. “Seeing someone every few weeks or even every other month means that, when tragedy strikes, you have an established person you can call on when you experience a distressing episode.” A trained mental health professional can be a key part of staying stable and sober in times of crisis.
4. Practice processing difficult emotions.
Part of recovery means identifying underlying trauma and pain and making peace with your inner child. A crisis, such as a hurricane or being exposed to violence, can trigger all the old hurts. But if you work on developing new coping skills, it can give you more stability for dealing with big emotions. “The more you practice these habits, the better you will become at them,” says Wiley. “Having a way to work through emotions makes it less likely they will sweep you away and take you back to your addiction.”
5. Have healthy distractions.
Ask yourself now, “If I were in a crisis, what would make me feel calmer?” Is there something you can do to keep your attention but help you relax? Boredom breeds the desire to use or initiate addictive behavior, so do something healthy to counteract it. Maybe you can paint, color, do crossword puzzles or play a video game on your phone. Maybe you can write down your thoughts. A positive, funny movie can help. “By giving yourself a break from [the problem], you can develop a fresh perspective on the stressful events around you,” says Brooks.
Even in the worst of times, there are things to be grateful for. Studies show if you take a few moments to jot them down, it can turn feelings of helplessness around. “This exercise proves to be one of the most helpful things we can do to remain in a good mental health space,” says Brooks. “Think about what you have and how far you have come. Remind yourself that bad times come and go, and your choices of how to think, feel and behave completely dictate where you end up.”
Being caught up in a crisis, or on the periphery of one, can be frightening. Acknowledge your fear and pain. In the worst of times, it doesn’t take long to start losing hope. Yet if you prepare the best you can emotionally, set up support systems and try to see unfolding events through spiritual eyes, you may see that even in the darkest storm there is hope.
Let this quote from the Dalai Lama, XIV, inspire you: “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”