In my nearly ten years as a therapist, I’ve learned that the simplest and most relatable definition of “trauma” is any stressful experience that is too much (or sometimes too little), too soon, or too fast. Over the last year I’ve also come to believe “for too long” needs to be added to this definition. In my practice, I’ve come to see the way in which trauma of this nature shapes our world views, and deeply impacts our ability to relate to ourselves and others. It is also one of the root issues that contributes to shame, addiction, eating disorders, and mental health issues. And now as a country and globally, this leads us to the Covid-19 pandemic’s wave of mental health issues, grief/loss, and a desperate need for some relief from the pandemic waves that seem to keep coming. We’ve survived wave after wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and for so many, particularly those who have young children restarting school, the fear has continued and continues to escalate as more and more classes are having to quarantine due to exposure and the politics seem to continue to be prioritized over the health and safety of our schools and communities. For all of us, the pandemic has been too much for too long. On a daily basis the news is overwhelming at best, and while we know intellectually that we need to practice “self-care,” set boundaries with ourselves in terms of how much news/information we consume, and stay connected to our loved ones- often these things are just easier said than done in the current climate. In both my personal and professional life, I know the comfort of “controlling what we can.”
“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” may be one of the most importance mantras in existence.
Early in the pandemic I saw an info graphic from thecounselingteacher.com that I connected so strongly with. And while I’ve had many moments when practicing this has been so helpful. I still get overwhelmed. We all do.
For those in recovery or working on mental health issues, addiction, or disordered eating pre-pandemic, the pandemic has presented a unique opportunity to solidify our recovery behaviors, strengthen our inner resourcing, and really hone our healing and recovery skills. And for many of us, being tested in this way has led to a lot of exhaustion, challenge, and sometimes desperation to distract from our feelings of grief and overwhelm. It’s in those moments when we most want a distraction, an escape, or an opportunity to just make the feelings stop, we are most likely to reach for control measures in ways that don’t move us forward in our recovery journey. Those that struggle with addiction know that feeling well- and it’s often what makes us crave our drug of choice and sets us up for relapse behavior. A person struggling with disordered eating may have fallen back into a diet mindset after hearing all of the messages about “the quarantine fifteen [lbs]” and unconsciously think “If I just lose a few pounds, maybe this won’t feel so overwhelming.” The fixation on weight as the problem is a tempting distraction from the grief and pain of living in a pandemic for nearly 18 months, and what starts as a “Oh I’m just going to do the Keto diet” or “My friend said intermittent fasting worked so well for her husband- it’ll work for me too,” can lead to dangerous behaviors and can trigger a larger problem. If you’re struggling with obsessive thoughts and/or behaviors related to food, weight, or body image, you’re not alone and there is help available.
Calley Steel, MA LPC
Desert Star Addiction Recovery Center