Expanding a Personal Recovery Model to the Nation

Practice these steps during the coronavirus outbreak.

Posted Apr 10, 2020

The recovering community knows how to maintain sanity in the midst of a chaotic world. The power of personal recovery offers valuable lessons for everyone facing the chaos and uncertainty rained down on us by this invisible menace. In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation as a whole would benefit from adopting the Wisdom of the first three steps.

Step one humbly acknowledges our powerlessness—a fact often misunderstood by people's less than humble ego. Powerlessness never meant impotence. Powerlessness is merely the recognition that none of us is all-powerful. No human is omnipotent.

Some things are simply beyond our power. I am unable to lift my house by myself. I cannot defy gravity when I fall out of a window. No one can drink alcohol and not be affected by it. And some people's brains are more severely affected by it than others. These are simply facts that acknowledge objective reality.

Of course, we can struggle mightily to prove that our will has no limits. We can keep stepping out of windows and trying to defy gravity, though this will result in multiple injuries. We can also keep trying to master the impact alcohol has on our brain, even though this, too, might result in multiple injuries and losses. Unfettered devotion to willpower is an unrealistic path. It fails to acknowledge the real-world limits on human will—a form of insanity that can eventually lead to even deeper levels of insanity, and death.

If we carelessly expose ourselves to the coronavirus, we are powerless to prevent infection. When vanity and blustering courage keep us from doing what we can to protect ourselves, the virus will have its way with us. Though the elderly and less firm are at greatest risk, even the young and healthy can end up on a ventilator and at the mercy of blind fate.

It is only when we admit the limitations to our power that we direct our full attention toward actions that can protect us—social distancing, staying home, washing hands, wearing an uncomfortable mask. We are not totally powerless. There is much we can do. But we are likely to practice measures that protect us only after we admit that we are powerless over the coronavirus doing what it does.

Step two rescues us from the miserable ego deflation that often follows being right-sized by step one. The insanity of trying to control the world by the strength of our will traps people in harmful repetitions of failed strategies. Such insanity stems from not knowing any other way exists, other than just trying harder. Sticking to failed strategies may be insane, but at least we are not hopeless.

Step two holds out a more realistic hope. A return to sanity is possible, but its wellspring does not lie within ourselves alone. If sanity, and hope, are to be regained, we must rely on something beyond only ourselves. Many people with outsized egos or with spiritual wounds (and who does not have spiritual wounds?) recoil at having to acknowledge, and depend on, anything outside ourselves.

Step three involves an active decision to take a new path, one no longer dictated by our arrogant ego. Although step three invokes the idea of God as each individual understands God, the step is less demanding in regard to the coronavirus. In the face of this pandemic, we only need to make a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of science and scientific experts. The men and women who have devoted their lives to studying germs and epidemics know more than we do. Step three merely involves a decision to accept, and practice, their best advice.

People in recovery understand that knowing what to do is not sufficient; it needs to be practiced—practiced on a daily, even a moment-by-moment basis. And with the acceptance of powerlessness to defeat the virus without following Good Orderly Direction, people in recovery can tolerate these restrictions with more equanimity, also called serenity.

Tradition one says that our common welfare should come first and that personal recovery depends on the community's unity. The current health crisis also makes it clear that our nation's unity, in turn, depends on each person's taking the best care of themselves and their immediate friends and family. The nation's health depends on each one of us doing what we can, and should, do to protect our own personal health.

All the Wisdom of the first three steps often summarizes as "I can't. S/He can. Let Her/Him," and is contained in the simple Serenity Prayer: God 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.

Be safe. Be well.