Managing Our Demons While Sheltering in Place

Tom Hall, Ph.D., Chair, VVA National PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee

As we enter our 7th, 8th, or even 9th week of sheltering in place, many of us are really starting to feel the burden this is placing on our lives, not mention living with the ever-present fear of losing a loved one, or God forbid, even catching the disease ourselves. I know I have found myself longing more frequently for a stiff night cap to help me rest.

But I assure you, alcohol and other drugs are not a healthy way to manage the side effects of sheltering in place.

I’m not going to lecture you about the harmful effects of abusing alcohol and other drugs, because you already know about that. What I am asking of you is to think carefully about the choices you are making. I want you to be able to respect the choices you make during this public health crisis.

No doubt, alcohol and other drugs change the way we feel, for a while. Sometimes we may feel better. Sometimes we may feel worse. What change is temporary and will not give us the relief we are looking for.

When you feel like reaching for a drink, make a call to a friend. They’d love to hear from you.

When you want to reach for your drug of choice, step outside and take some deep breaths.

Some may turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve the boredom of sheltering in place. Find, instead, something healthy to occupy your time such as going for a walk, binging on that tv series your friends can’t stop talking about, or writing letters to your congressmen and women on issues that matter to you. The choice is yours.

You can choose healthy behaviors that keep you engaged and productive, or you can feel miserable or sick because your choices and resulting behavior pushed people away.

We are all going through this crisis together. Self-pity about what we can and can’t do only feeds the rationalization monster for abusing substances or pushing others away, because we believe our situation is so different from everyone else. It is not.

I wish I had advice. We are all adults. We will choose to either be miserable and sink into self-pity and use substances to treat that, or we can fight to figure out ways of keeping engaged in life, in other, healthier ways.

You have the freedom to choose.

I hope you choose to fight through the negative, cynical mind attacks. I hope you reach out and find ways to stay engaged without crawling into a whiskey, beer, wine, or prescription bottle.

If you want to make the healthy choice, but feel you need support, here are some options:

• Call the National SAMSHA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357);
• Click here to find an AA near you;
Narcotics Anonymous has phone and web meetings;
• Reach out by telephone to your VA healthcare provider.

We will get through this together.


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