COVID-19 has the potential to worsen a crisis that has been around for years: the addiction epidemic. Johann Hari coined the phrase, “the opposite of addiction is connection,” but with state and federal agencies urging citizens to practice social distancing, how will people in recovery weather the storm?
Despite the challenges ahead, COVID-19 doesn’t have to trail destruction through the recovery community. One of the core tenets of recovery is that – no matter what happens – you don’t have to drink or use. If COVID-19 causes your livelihood to become uncertain – you don’t have to drink or use. If COVID-19 forces you to stay isolated at home – you don’t have to drink or use. If COVID-19 causes you or a loved one to become ill – you don’t have to drink or use. While the temptation may feel overwhelming at times, drugs and alcohol will not improve your situation. Instead, they will add fuel to the fire, and make recovering from this international crisis harder, both personally and collectively.
Our job as addiction treatment professionals is to give you the tools to stay sober…no matter what life throws your way. COVID-19 has created a spectrum of disruption – from inconvenience to chaos – but there are still ways to stay connected and protect your recovery:
1. Attend online recovery meetings: Online meetings can be attended on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. A quick Google search will yield many results, but here are two options to get you started:
2. Regularly call your sponsor, mentor, and other members of your recovery network: Remember, any time two or more people connect with the purpose of sharing a recovery message, it’s a meeting! We are lucky to have access to technology that allows more than one person to be on a call. If the twelve step forefathers could weather the sometimes sparse and rocky beginnings of the fellowship, we can survive COVID-19.
3. Find ways to get outside yourself : Substance use disorder is a thinking disorder. One of the biggest risks of isolation is getting stuck in a cycle of negative thinking. Helping others is arguably the most effective way to step outside of that cycle. There are plenty of ways to help without even leaving your couch. If you are financially able, consider ordering takeout from a local restaurant instead of a chain (or have a meal delivered to someone in need). You could also buy online from a small business. Many non-profits desperately need donations – no matter how small. It’s also important to remember the forgotten. Check on your elderly neighbors. Call someone in your recovery fellowship who may not be able to access an online meeting. Make an appointment to adopt a pet from an overcrowded shelter. Donate immune boosting supplements to the homeless. Even the simple act of sharing a heartfelt message on social media can immediately improve your outlook.
4. In the spirit of changing your thinking – make a gratitude list: It’s simple. The more you complain, the more you attract things to complain about. The more you practice gratitude, the more you attract things for which to be grateful. Start and/or end each day by making a gratitude list. Share it on social media or in a group chat to inspire and uplift others.
5. Exercise and eat a mindful diet: As of today, you are still encouraged to walk your dog (or yourself), and enjoy outdoor locales away from others. If you can’t go outside, many yoga studios are offering online classes, and yoga and meditation practices have always been available on YouTube. Eating healthfully and exercising will keep your immune and respiratory health in good condition – which has never been as important as it is now.
6. Take this time to heal: We are a society known for complaining that we “never have enough time”. While COVID-19 is by no means a “gift,” we can utilize this period in our lives to do healing work that we may have put on the back burner. Instead of sitting around wishing things were different, read recovery or self-growth literature, write inventory, or deepen your spiritual connection. This is an opportunity to learn how to sit with self. Connection with others is not the only antidote. Connection with self and spirit is important, too. Our modern lifestyles make us forget the importance of slowing down.
7. Manage your stress and anxiety: Fear and stress deplete our immune systems and corrode our mental wellbeing. Identify individuals to whom you can vent. Make sure you surround yourself with a support system that validates your feelings, but doesn’t exacerbate them. Unplug from the media and listen to a daily meditation or inspirational speaker. If you’re working from home, try to create a routine, which may include your children. Be mindful of your bedtime routine and sleep hygiene. Most importantly, ask for help if you need it. It’s okay to feel scared and overwhelmed. If you need toilet paper or a listening ear, let your village love you.
8. Tap into your creative potential: Whether you’re by yourself or with your family, this doesn’t have to be a time of boredom and mental instability. Build blanket forts and make every night movie night. Come up with a new recipe using random ingredients in your pantry. Throw open the windows, turn up the music, and do a thorough spring cleaning. Rearrange the furniture. Read the books piling on your nightstand. Research a new hobby or start a community initiative. Above all, put down your phone and look your pets and family members in the eyes. Say hello to yourself. Your life – and therefore your recovery – don’t start back up when the COVID-19 pandemic fades into memory. They’re right here in this very moment. Cherish them.
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s in-house writer. She received an education in Substance Use Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.