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Mindfulness When Tragedy Strikes

Recently we had a mindfulness podcast episode where we talked about feeling all of the feels when they happen. As alcoholics and addicts this has to be a constant work in progress. We learned to numb our feelings for so long that it can feel uncomfortable and foreign to suddenly force ourselves to feel them. Learning how to successfully feel everything is crucial to staying sober. I kept thinking about that all weekend after tragedy struck. On Saturday, nearly 4,000 people died because of an earthquake in Nepal. It reminded me of another tragedy almost 14 years ago.

I was just a few months away from celebrating my fourth sobriety anniversary. Like every other day, I woke up, turned on the television, and snuggled with my nearly two-month old baby. But this day was different and it would forever change our lives in America. I watched as the planes flew into the towers and my heart broke. I had just become a mother and in those moments with the world on edge, I questioned how I could have brought a child into this tragic life.

We stayed glued to the news for weeks. Not long after 9/11, the Anthrax scare started. I was traveling with my family and caught up in one panic attack after another constantly checking my surroundings. There seemed to be no escape from the fear I constantly lived in as a new mother. In the meantime, I’d started telling myself that I wasn’t really an alcoholic. I stopped doing all of the things that I knew would help me stay sober. Motherhood, being a wife, quitting my full time job, and getting caught up in the fear of tragedy didn’t lead me to drink. What led me to relapse was not using my coping skills and tools to get through those difficult situations. I didn’t want to feel all of those scary feelings. Eventually, I self-medicated the anxiety away using whatever worked, including alcohol, over a twelve-year period.

My reaction to this weekend’s tragedy was different than I’ve ever experienced before. Of course I felt completely helpless. I felt empathy for all of those affected by it. I said prayers. I thought of how the exact same thing could happen here. I looked up the different ways to donate money trying to find the most worthy charity. I found gratitude immediately that I had the gift of one more beautiful day on this planet. I was reminded that the stuff I was dealing with was so unimportant in this grand scheme of life and for that I was grateful to the Universe. I thanked God for the sound of my girls running around playing upstairs. I squeezed them a little tighter that night at bedtime.

There was a time when I could not feel any of those feelings. Instead I drank, I acted out, I binged on sugar, I numbed out online, and I disconnected from everything and everyone I loved so that I didn’t have to FEEL. When it comes down to it we are animals with a survival instinct. Thanks to evolutionary mismatch, that can get a little skewed. It may not appear to be our number one priority but deep down inside it still is. That instinct makes itself very clear when tragedy strikes. When we feel the least amount of control over our survival, we realize how much of a priority survival really is. I can’t run from tragedy and disaster. I can’t ever trick myself into thinking that something can take me away from those scary feelings. Instead, I find the beauty in humanity. When 9/11 happened, our whole country banded together as one. The cashier at the store was red eyed from crying and so were you. It was unspoken that you were both grieving this terrible loss but you were united in love and sadness. That’s the only time in my life that I’ve experienced that.

Tragedy brings people together and it creates community in a most primal way. Humanity brings out the best in us at times and we want to take action to help. It’s not only about the ones on the front lines, but also the ones who are sending donations online. We surely will not experience the joy of the light if we are incapable of feeling the pain in the darkness.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” –Fred Rogers

CNN has a long list of organizations you can donate to for relief and aide in Nepal. A Buddhist, recovery-based company The Easier Softer Way is donating 15% of every sale to Karuna Shechen, a Buddhist non-profit with feet on the ground in Nepal.

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