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Guest post by Catherine J. Collins, Regional Business Development Liaison at the New England Recovery Center

It is often said that the opposite of isolation and addiction is connection. We are never alone – that’s our mantra. But if we are never alone, how is it that I’m talking to my cat so much? And no, he’s not answering me back…yet!

I have been attending 12-step meetings, five to seven times a week, since 1998. This is the first time I haven’t been to a single meeting in seven full days. I’m speaking on the phone every day to newcomers, old timers, and those struggling to get by emotionally – but I’m also speaking to those who can pick me up.

I’ve received constant texts about “fresh air meetings” instead of self-isolating, and have been encouraged to bring my own chair and big book; participate in online video conference meetings, attend phone meetings, etc. All these options are terrific substitutes to what we know, and a reminder that this pandemic is not a forever situation; this too shall pass.

However, I’m not at all likely to go to fresh air meetings myself. It doesn’t feel safe to me, and it doesn’t feel like it respects the CDC requests to self-quarantine. We might not get COVID-19, but we could carry it and pass it on to others. I have people that I love, and I would be devastated if I carried the virus to any of those people.

In addition to AA, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, and mental health intensive outpatient programs, along with a very wide variety of other options, are now available online. As they continue to pop up, I continue to be amazed at the power and resilience of others. The dedication to 12-step programs (remember, this is an avocation, not our vocation) is time consuming, but so well worth it. When you don’t feel like getting out of bed, or even calling into a meeting, remind yourself that “service to others” is the best way to stay sober. Get up, make a call, offer to reach out to an elderly neighbor via a phone call or a wave through the door.

I was feeling helpless, not hopeless, a few days into the “work from home” mandate. But since I am lucky that I can work from home, I asked myself: how can I fulfill my need to be of service? I thank the healthcare workers that I know, and I pray for them all to stay safe, mindful and attentive in times of stress. I also pray that those who get the virus don’t suffer through it.

I do little things. I left some alcohol-wipes and a bottle of hand sanitizer in my mailbox, along with a note of encouragement and a pack of gum, for my mailman. I baked some protein packed muffins for my neighbor, delivered hot out of the oven – we didn’t invade the boundaries as I rang the doorbell then ran, but it delighted her.

The point is: in unsettling times, you might feel like drinking or doing drugs again. It’s a natural feeling as we are isolated from the world, not working, seeing friends, etc. We used drinking or drugs as our go-to solution for many years. It got us out of ourselves – temporarily.  I know that if I picked up a drink today, it would be short order before I needed another one and then I’d be stocking up and the obsession would be off and running, the phenomenon of craving alcohol raging through me.

My spiritual connection would diminish very quickly. Then, if I survived the alcoholic stupor of the coming months, I would be back to looking for help with my alcoholism. My desire to be of service would be gone. My thinking would become selfish and self-centered.

COVID-19 and social distancing might come and go, but my sanity would surely be gone for good. We can FEEL like drinking, but we do not HAVE to drink.  As I’m often told, feelings aren’t facts. Feel however you feel. One thing I’ve learned in my 22 years of sobriety is that there are plenty of soothing measures you can take, such as calling others. It helps them, and it helps you. A problem shared is a problem cut in half.

From day one, I learned that if you drink obsessively, your life WILL get worse, and if you recover, your life WILL get better. Why should today be any different than the beginning of my journey? It isn’t.

One day at a time? Yes. Unsettled times? To say the least. Being locked inside during a pandemic feels like we have no control. We were powerless over drugs and alcohol and now, we are powerless to get to a face-to-face meeting. However, please don’t let this necessary isolation take you to a destructive place. No need to pull the shades and hide. Open the windows and let the light of day shine in. The universe has amazing and positive vibes to send you if you just keep your mind, your heart, and your soul open to it.

Attend a virtual meeting and access other virtual resources. Various organizations across the country are offering online meetings and video and audio content and more to help keep you connected. Below is a sampling.

Finally, some other ideas to help be of service and pass some time:

  • Call a friend
  • Write a blog post
  • Sanitize your house/car
  • Sanitize a friend or neighbor’s house/car
  • Listen to AA, NA, Smart Recovery, Celebrate Recovery or MAT Speakers on podcasts or YouTube

Add to this list and share ideas with us!

As for us, Spectrum Health Systems’ counselors now meet with clients via telephone or video conference call. We’re also increasing our number of take-home medications for qualifying clients, and everyone who comes to one of our clinics now leaves with a list of recommendations for online meetings and other recovery resources. And, we’ve installed a trailer outside of our Westborough campus for conducting inpatient screenings, in order to keep our facilities as safe and clean as possible.

Get help TODAY if you are in active addiction. If you are killing time, like the rest of the world, waiting for this to pass, why not go to detox/rehab/residential treatment? Start your road to recovery today. Spectrum Health Systems and New England Recovery Center are here to help – call 1-877-MyRehab any time.

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