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Mother Nature Is Not Your Drinking/Using Buddy

By Ty David Lerman, MA, LPC, CHt

The 2013 Hurricane Season is here, and we have yet again been reminded of the devastating power Mother Nature wields. Our friends in the Midwest know all too well these days, after the tornadoes struck, that the only thing we can count on is change. That’s something we know about here on the Texas Gulf Coast because it wasn’t that long ago that we went through it, too.

When Hurricane Ike barreled through our city five years ago, the first businesses to open — with air conditioning — were the bars. Hanging out there was a great way to pass the time. It was appealing invitation, but for those who are in recovery from substance use, it had “relapse potential” stamped all over it. Fewer  places were available that were committed to sobriety and healthy coping skills.

Whatever our coping skills are – healthy or not – when faced with a stressful situation, we often fall back on what’s familiar. What happens when we encounter stress? An easy working definition of stress is “a biological and immediate response to change.” Stress is biological in that our body releases a chemical when change happens – it is our body’s way of coping with a perceived threat. Stress is immediate in that we cannot change this biological pattern even if we wanted to. If we experience change, then we also will experience stress. If you remember that the only thing constant in life is change, then you realize that change – and thus stress – is also constant.

Okay, so…

Accepting that stress is always present poses a challenge. We typically think about ways to reduce or avoid stress, however a more realistic way to look at it may be thought of as how we choose to cope with stress. So then all we have to do is prepare for that.

When it comes to trauma and disasters, addiction is just another coping skill. Granted, it’s among a list of coping skills that can do more harm than good, but it is a way of coping. Before disaster strikes, like right now, consider positive, healthy coping skills to utilize rather than hitting “autopilot” and falling back on old self-destructive coping skills.

Make a disaster plan, and if you are in recovery, add coping strategies to it.

Self-Care – Self-care extends beyond making sure our basic needs are met. It covers all of our needs – mental health and sobriety. We are tested the most when crisis hits. Don’t let it take you by surprise – expect that it will come and plan for it! Here are some suggestions to help:

  • Discuss disaster procedures in group, and make a plan to meet at a specific place/time, even if phones are out. All you need is one other person to have a group!
  • Plan to connect with your sponsor and/or your usual group. A phone tree might be appropriate in some cases.
  • Texting may be more reliable than phone lines.
  • Check in with yourself and practice the Trinity of self-care: Mind, Body, and Soul, and make sure each area is being addressed.

Work the program – What tools does the program provide you to assist in your sobriety? There may be a large disruption to your routine, but you can be the calm eye of the storm.

  • Use your slogans/mantras/affirmations. (Does the Serenity prayer work for you?)
  • What steps can you practice? (Personal inventory? Daily prayer/meditation?)
  • Attitude is gratitude (Make a list!)
  • Be of service to others (There may be people worse off than you – can you help?)

In General – Remember, the storm – or any other event for that matter – does not hold power over you. Make sure you care for yourself first and foremost!

  • Practice mindfulness – accept the situation, see the big picture, and ask what the right thing for me to do next is.
  • Appreciate the little things (cell phone charger, ice, light, electricity)
  • Remember, future planning IS self-care. You are WORTH planning for.

The Montrose Center is established as a first responder, and strives to be open and providing service as quickly as possible after a storm. As Houston’s LGBT hub, we want to make sure our community knows we are here, before, during and after a traumatic event.

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