Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

How To Be Our Own “First Responder”

As I type this, I’m listening to the CNN coverage of the Washington Navy Yard shooting in our nation’s capital.  This is yet another tragic, almost unfathomable crisis situation when first responders make the difference between devastation and salvation.

These brave men and women woke up this morning not realizing today would be another day they’d be asked to take action because others are either momentarily or physically incapable of doing so.

I have long saluted these courageous first responders.  Their efforts often defy logic when considering how often they put their lives on the line to keep others from losing theirs.  They are on the scene to help those in traumatic shock feel safe, secure and less alone.

As I contemplate this active mission, I can’t help considering the overall message I try to convey each day and why I might have a pretty good idea how these first responders spent the few moments this morning between receiving word they were needed and when they approached the chaotic scene.  They took the time to stop and breathe.

Yesterday I watched a replay of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday with Dr. Brené Brown (  As I feverishly scribbled in my journal some of the remarkable insights of Dr. Brown, I felt my head spin when she talked about the main characteristic of calm people – they breathe.

She went on to explain when approached by someone frantically trying to make sense of a situation, a calm person listens with intention, takes a deep breath and then will ask something like, “Tell me more.”  Dr. Brown theorizes this space of time ones takes to breathe and if needed, ask a question or two, is what differentiates a calm person from the rest.  She said, “They allow themselves a moment to pause and consider whether they have enough data to freak out.”

This is why I believe those who so bravely step up to face what most fear are called “first responders” not “first reactors.”  To those who witness this selfless behavior, the experience leaves most in awe.  If asked I imagine these first responders would tell of the importance they place on taking time to assess the situation, form an action plan and then execute.

So yes, they react, but they do so only after they’ve collected enough data to determine how.

first responder image #3

I’ve written before about how I used to react to things I didn’t want to acknowledge by using unhealthy, obsessive coping behaviors.  I sought any form of instant relief from fears I had or the feelings I wanted to numb. This idea of taking time to consider better or less self-destructive alternatives wasn’t in my realm of possibilities until I reached the recovery stage of my life.

Today, I do my best to motivate myself and others to embrace the many mental and emotional benefits of taking slow, deep breaths.

For example, when I post things to Facebook and Twitter, I usually prompt the reader with a suggestion they breathe.  I do so because admittedly I’ve been known to swipe my finger down my iPhone or iPad screen to get that next update or piece of information as quickly as I can.

Whether we like the truth or not, our whole world is slowly shifting toward the belief that to be our best we have to know more, be more and have more in an instant.

We’re becoming information gatherers by moving faster than a speeding bullet.  Termed by most as “skimming” the words, we’re losing sight of the whole point in order to fuel some incessant need to get to the answer, the conclusion or the bottom line.

I feel like we’re inching ever-closer toward rationalizing why we don’t need a thorough understanding of things.  How terribly sad for all the people who tirelessly pour over phrases and words to keep their readers engaged and better educated on the topic.

We teaching ourselves to react to what we’ve glossed over in some competitive effort to rush into the next thing, action or word without having gathered enough data to know why.  I wonder if we’re beginning to lose sight of how uninformed we actually are and in the end, possibly doing more harm than good.

We praise first responders.  Why not start showing a little of that honor for ourselves


A Moment to Breathe …

Have you found yourself being more conscious of responding versus reacting?  Have you purposely thought to take a second or two before you took an action of some sort?   I’d love for you to share what that experience was like.  The more we take in valuable examples of this type of behavior, the propensity to have this become habit increases exponentially.

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