Recovery, Resiliency, and COVID-19

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The recovery process teaches life lessons that apply to everyone – not just people with drug and alcohol use disorders.

In fact, some of the lessons people learn in recovery are helpful right now, during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re helpful because they’re practical, adaptable, and simple. That’s why people in recovery are showing remarkable resiliency during this challenging time, and many are handling things like shelter-in-place orders and social distancing far better than people who’ve never been through the recovery process.


It starts with letting go.

Most people are familiar with some version of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) serenity prayer:


“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”


This basic mantra guides people in recovery – whether they’re in AA or not – through good times and bad. It helps them get perspective, manage their energy and emotions, and keep focused on the things they need to do every day to stay sober.

Letting Go During COVID-19

Practical application of the serenity prayer during the coronavirus pandemic can help anyone, because the list of things we cannot change during COVID-19 grows by the day.

For starters, we can’t change:

  1. The fact the pandemic is happening
  2. How long shelter-in-place, business closings, and travel restrictions will last
  3. When we’ll have a vaccine or an effective treatment
  4. What people say and do online and on TV
  5. Whether other people follow social distancing guidelines, wear face coverings when in public, or take the pandemic seriously

None of us – unless we’re public health officials making the guidelines or researchers working on a vaccine or treatment – have control over any of those things. That means we have to accept and let go: it’s that simple. People in recovery are experts at this. They’ve spent the past two months accepting these things and letting go of the need to control them.

Magical Thinking

There’s another thing people in recovery have practice doing: identifying and eliminating what’s known as magical thinking. Magical thinking during COVID-19 includes things like:

  • Wishing we could go back to before
  • Believing a vaccine will arrive quickly
  • Thinking the advice of medical experts does not apply to us

Wishing things to be true does not make them true. People in recovery know this. They wish they’d never developed an addiction. They wish they could go back to a simpler time. They wish they didn’t have to do the hard work of recovery.

They wish all these things, but they know those are wishes, and do not correspond to reality. Nor do wishing we could go back to before, wishing for a quick vaccine, or wishing we didn’t have to follow the advice of medical experts. As much as we may want these things to be true, we have to accept reality. It’s unlikely things will go back to the way they were before. Effective vaccines don’t happen quickly. The advice of medical experts applies to all of us: we don’t get to pick and choose. As much as we wish these things were not true, we can’t change the fact that they are, indeed, true.

We have to see the world as it is.

People in recovery have practice at this, because they’ve learned to see their recovery as it is: something that’s part of their life, something they can’t change, and something they have to work on every day.

Which bring us to another recovery skill people who aren’t in recovery could benefit from: making simple, positive, proactive choices every day that support physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

One Day At A Time

One thing that’s difficult to deal with right now is the uncertainty of it all.

When will it end? How long do we have to stay home? Will my kids go back to school in the fall? How long will I keep my job?

Those are all questions no one has a good answer to. But there is an answer to how to deal with the uncertainty associated with those questions: focus on today. Even better, focus on the now. People in recovery have learned to build their lives from the ground up, replacing maladaptive coping mechanisms with life-affirming habits as they go. They know that if they’re having a bad day, a bad hour, or a bad few minutes, what they need to do is apply one simple technique they learned in recovery, and the chances are, the bad patch will pass – and they’ll be okay.

That’s what we all can do now, if we find ourselves worrying about the things we can’t control. Apply simple lifestyle prescriptions we all know support positive physical, mental, and emotional health. We can eat healthy food, get plenty of exercise and outdoor time every day, and get plenty of sleep every night.

Those things work.

And those are things within our direct control that will help us through this difficult time. If you’re unsure how to apply these lessons, or you need more tips about living in the moment, sticking to your wellness program, and living one day at a time – ask someone in recovery.

They’ll be happy to share.