Finding Emotional Sobriety in a Pandemic

By Shauna Lane 09/16/20

I never realized I was the cause of my negative thinking by willfully trying to “make” my life happen then getting angry that everyone wasn’t doing what I wanted.

Image: 
Woman standing outside, hands above head, looking up with eyes closed; happy
I don’t need to manipulate anything. Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

I used to work at this weird hotel and one of the door guys told me when he was in prison he kept going to solitary confinement until he was sitting there one day and realized he was the problem. I was still using then and thought to myself “Weird. I’m going to go get high in one of the rooms upstairs and think about that.” Well, now I get it. Left alone with me during this quarantine I realized I was the problem.

Unlike most people I was so excited for the quarantine because I cherish my alone time. I loved it! I cooked, I meditated, I read books and I did a bunch of writing. Auditions I would normally drive into the city for, I was able to do from my apartment, along with our podcast. I saved so much money in gas! I did service, and still went to meetings. I relaxed somewhat, and it seemed like a dream come true. A nice, long, staycation! Minus the complete panic over the economy, being worried about family members overseas, and my aging gracefully mother who would kill me if I called her elderly (she is). Then it happened…..

The negative thinking.

The repetitive, negative thinking.

Feeling like a victim.

Not of COVID-19, but of the past, alcoholism, and that thing that happened in 2004. Or 1997. Or the day before at Shoprite!

This has happened to me many, many times since sobriety and many, many times before that but there was always a PERSON, or a SITUATION that “caused” it. Honestly, I couldn’t even blame my boyfriend during the quarantine because he kept leaving and going to his office every day. I was alone, working from home, and doing whatever I wanted. I was having a great time!

I cleaned out everything! Put pictures in frames from 10 years ago! Cleaned out every drawer, closet, journal, and my entire bookcase. I donated books, clothes, shoes, and jewelry. But still – I was LOSING MY FUCKING MIND. Because unbeknownst to me I had not achieved emotional sobriety yet.

And I was addicted to negative thinking.

And it didn’t just happen – my realization of it just happened. I was sitting here alone with myself and my thoughts and realized I have still – after all this time – been people-pleasing. And doing it in large part to get what I want. I was like (subconsciously) “I want what I want and if I’m nice to people and do stuff for them – I AM GOING TO GET WHAT I WANT.”

Well, it took sitting here alone for months to realize once and for all – there’s a 3rd step and I wasn’t doing it, and people-pleasing doesn’t work. It’s always an inside job. Inside our own heads and hearts. For me, it’s only when I let go that I have seen the evidence of my higher power.

It’s so hard to trust.

Once again I am seeing “spiritual road signs” on the ground whenever I am outside exercising, via fallen tree branches. For some reason I get direction from these twigs and branches and lately they are all right or left turns. So it feels like something very different, and I believe emotional sobriety is the path I am meant to turn on. It’s something I never even really thought about but it makes so much sense now. I need to be sober in my head and heart, not just my body.

I mean I have heard so many people share about this – that they came for their drinking and stayed for their thinking. I have said it! And I meant it! I just didn’t realize I was the CAUSE of my negative thinking by willfully trying to “make” my life happen then getting angry everyone wasn’t doing what I wanted. So what do I do about this? Because I have realized that this negative thinking is toxic for me and my body and I can’t have that. I already had cancer once! And honestly and truly I value my sobriety more than anything. I am nothing without it. So this is the next layer of my stupid alcoholic onion. I want to grow. I know that my spiritual condition relies on daily maintenance and as I begin to train my thoughts to the positive it has become a moment to moment training. I had just been letting my thoughts go crazy all the time and I was too busy to realize it. It’s like early sobriety again – taking it moment by moment sometimes. I rage at someone in my mind and then say “No, no – let’s go with a different thought.” It’s so frustrating and tedious! I have made this analogy lately that came about from COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine.

A positive one! Say it to myself all the time.

I wash my hands 30-50 times a day. At least 25!

I cook all the time and was a big hand-washer before all this – regardless I wash my hands a lot – right?

So why not do the spiritual work 30-50 times a day? If right now, that’s what I have to do to get my head sober then why not? Pray more. Meditate an additional time each day. Reach out to other alcoholics so I stop obsessing over myself – more often. Spiritual hand-wash all day long.

I can do more work! I started to do the Traditions with my sponsor.

I started to do what I did when I got cancer and beefed up my program.

This is bringing me to freedom – even though I feel a little beat up from all of this. Not as beat up as after cancer treatment or at the end of my drinking and drugging! And I am almost positive I don’t feel as beat up as that poor guy being in solitary confinement. But that’s what it has taken for me to realize I’m the problem. 

So ultimately it has been people-pleasing and willfulness. This willfulness has come from a lack of trust in my higher power.

I have this beautiful higher power that has brought me so much peace and clarity – and I haven’t trusted the strength of that higher power. It’s like there’s been a higher power budget I thought I had to be on.

I can rely on my higher power to not only carry other people’s stuff but to guide me while I take care of myself around other people. I can worry about myself and my inner life and turn to my higher power to guide me where I will be the most useful next. I don’t need to manipulate anything.

My sponsor always says we can be happy. We can be happy, joyous, and free – and that we work so hard for that. So this new awareness is bringing freedom. Ah, what a place to be! Awareness!

It’s a beautiful thing.

A beautiful, uncomfortable, and freeing thing.

Sometimes freedom isn’t comfortable.

I am going to put that into my higher power’s hands, along with everything else in my head and heart.

There’s a lot to lose our minds over right now. Wasn’t there always? It’s not easy waking up and recovering. I am going to practice (one day at a time) not fighting anyone or anything and accepting that I am enough – as is. I don’t have to pick up a drink, drug or thought today and I don’t have to fight with myself, or anyone at Shoprite. I don’t even need to take care of anyone at Shoprite! 

I can also practice being grateful that this quarantine helped me to remember an amazing lesson I learned at a weird hotel in 2003 from a poor guy who--I just realized--was probably recovering, just like me.

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Shauna Lane is a comedian and actor based in New York City. You can follow her @laneshauna on instagram and see some of her work at www.shaunalane.com.