The Spirituality of Solitude in Times of Crisis
By Hank Center
Although naturally an introvert, I was not always comfortable with my own company and was many years sober before I actually enjoyed and looked forward to the solitude that I had never known before, and the peace and serenity that resulted from having a program of recovery. In this time of the COVID-19 (CoronaVirus) emergency, it is serving me well.
‘The fear of being alone is common among addicts and often noted in the recovery community’
The voices in my head, always haunting and never ceasing, tortured me for most of my life. There was always a background dialog that at best was a low murmur of shame and remorse and at worst loud arguments about how I have destroyed everything that is good, everyone around me, and nobody loved me because I was unworthy of being loved, or, more often, about things that had never happened but that I had created from nothing more than a long memory that had been whipped into a frenzied, solitary, mental discussion with a predictable outcome that I was going to lose. Because that is what happens to losers. I could always, or at least for a couple of decades, depend on alcohol and drugs, and first and later food, to quiet the voices and bring about moments of peace, but then the cycle of destruction would begin and eventually the voices would start up again. I equated quiet with peace, but it was so elusive that I was ultimately unable to concoct the variable and increasingly complex chemical formula that could bring about that relief.
The fear of being alone is common among addicts and often noted in the recovery community. I have a vivid recollection of being in a bar or a club at last call and the panic that would set in when I realized I would have to go home and would probably start to sober up very soon. All I would have left at the end of the night was to be alone with myself. Nothing was more terrifying.
‘Solitude has allowed me to discover who I am at my core and to grow in a spiritual direction’
A program of recovery brought an opportunity for me to learn to live differently and quieten the voices through a simple process of practicing a set of principles that would lead me along a spiritual path and to a relationship with God This practice has allowed me to live and thrive during times of external chaos.
Social distancing has been a response to the CoronaVirus to reduce exposure, which is particularly dangerous to the very young, older adults, people with major illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes, and immuno-compromised persons. For many of us, to be distanced, socially, was welcomed and a much-needed break from humanity. Others, however, have not fared as well. I have seen many posts on social media, particularly from people in early recovery, expressing fear and loneliness. I have also seen people reaching out, offering phone calls, and using media platforms to bring meetings into our homes via video or teleconferencing.
But ultimately, many if not most of us will at some point have to be alone and how can we overcome the fear of loneliness and find solitude; comprehend the word serenity, and know peace?
Everything good in my life has begun with honesty. To find the truth, I had to clear away the noise and to do that I had to admit un-manageability. It was a starting point and the beginning of a twelve-step process that has ultimately allowed me to understand and embrace the idea that being alone does not have to mean being lonely. But how does this happen? The inventory process allows us to look at specific parts of our lives, though patterns, ideas, processes, and behaviors and determine what is working for us and what is not. The things that are not working can then be removed or addressed in such a way as to be beneficial and positive. As long as I live in self-will, I will not find happiness or success on a scale that is possible. When self-will and God’s will are in alignment, I find peace and happiness and that place of loneliness becomes solitude.
‘How can I best help the newcomer and those who need human interaction?’
Solitude has allowed me to discover who I am at my core and to grow in a spiritual direction. Once I was relieved of anger and resentment and could sit quietly, I also began to lose the fear of trying new things and was able to learn about my interests. I began to participate in activities that I enjoyed from my childhood and the happy times spent with my father, an avid outdoorsman.
My time in social distancing has been productive and I am happy. I begin the morning with two prayers, a written meditation, and plans for the day. I am taking a class online, working on some creative projects, gardening, overdue deep cleaning and organization, and because my home is my sanctuary, I realize to have a healthy home I must be proactive to ensure positive flow. Clutter accompanies negative energy and minimization brings about accomplishment and joy.
But how can I best help the newcomer and those who need human interaction? If I could offer the single most important suggestion it would be to act. Every positive change in my life has begun with an action. Picking up the phone to call three alcoholics every day is an action. Reaching out to my sponsor, talking with sponsees, participating in an online meeting or a conference call are all actions that can help alleviate a sense of isolation. Struggling with step four? Here is your chance and maybe a reason to make a phone call or two. Want to deepen a meditation practice? Try some deep breathing exercises. Want to take a yoga class? Try online video resources. Do we have some reading to catch up on? Of course, we do.
Connection with others is key and beautifully summed up by Steve Maraboli:
“One of the most spiritual things you can do is embrace your humanity. Connect with those around you today. Say, “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “I appreciate you”, “I’m proud of you”…whatever you’re feeling. Send random texts, write a cute note, embrace your truth and share it…cause a smile today….”
The CoronaVirus has brought with it fear, illness, unrest, and change. But it has also brought opportunity. I embrace this chance to do good in the world, to reach out to loved ones, to practice self-care, spiritual growth, and to find joy in everyday tasks. I will make an extra effort today to connect with some of those who are hurting or afraid or new to recovery and try to offer comfort where I can. I embrace the opportunity to practice positivity and to be a part of the changing dialog.