I work in an industry where getting a cold means you don’t perform well – which means hand-sanitiser is on every prop table, and it is not optional. In my early recovery I had one of the largest performance opportunities of my life, with a character I really had to claw into with my whole heart and soul. Which meant that I had to get vulnerable often. And it just so happened that every time I seemed to get to this zone of deep feeling I would have to lather my hands in 90% alcohol. It always brought back some powerful and painful memories, whether I wanted it or not.
This may be being read in a time where 2020 will be long forgotten, but I think there will be lasting sensory memories of the era where applying hand-sanitiser was the new handshake. Smell is a powerful sense, without trying it arrests our mind and take us to places and spaces we would rather forget. Smelling strong alcohol every day for an ENTIRE PANDEMIC brought back a lot of lonely evenings and regrettable decisions around alcohol – and that’s normal.
I remembered a class in DBT where we acknowledged how scents can jolt us out of the moment. I journaled how smelling Joop Jump reminds me of a sexual encounter I’d rather forget. Smelling lemon wipes reminds me of two months I’ll never get back. Smelling hand-sanitiser reminds me of, well, you get the idea. On the other side of the coin, smelling oil paints reminds me of my grandmother’s painting room. Smelling cinnamon reminds me of making pancakes with my sister. Smelling lavender reminds me of my best friend. As negatively as scents can arrest us, they can serve another purpose.
I carried some scents, oils, perfumes, etc., about with me for when I was overwhelmed and upset. It was a nice retaliation to a triggering scent or experience. I experimented with overriding those powerful memories with another one. At the very least, it gave me an opportunity to enjoy the process of filling my senses with something that reminded me of happier times.
What scents take you to a happier time? Could you use them to urge surf?
Two tiny things:
- Buy a new perfume, body oil, deodorant, body wash, candle, incense – make it practical yet indulgent. You’re worth it. Every time you smell it, remember you’re doing this for you.
- Add some scents to your crisis tool kit you made in week 1.