How do “meeting makers make it” during Covid-19?
Initially in treatment, early recovery and as suggested by my sponsors in AA and NA, I was advised of many suggestions. There was “Meeting Makers Make It” and “90 in 90 is the only way!” In addition, if I was Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired (H.A.L.T) I better get to a meeting, because these were my relapse triggers, and “If you like everyone in AA, you’re not going to enough meetings!”
For me, and many of my recovering peers, these suggestions, literally, saved our lives. I was taught to go to meetings and “Fake it Till I Make it”, because when I had nowhere else to turn, I could count on my recovery meetings and sponsor to be there. They were, in essence, “infallible”. I was to see my sponsor weekly for a one to one meeting, read the literature with my sober sisters and get to meetings. The meetings and fellowship were my “higher power”. I had landed safely in a program of recovery in a city filled with people on fire for recovery. This was the way to recovery, there was no other way. This was not long ago, just before the Covid 19-pandemic and quarantine.
Johann Hari tells us that “the opposite to addiction is connection” in his famous Ted Talk. So how do we “connect” during a lockdown quarantine? What now? Where are all the recovering people who were on fire for recovery? They seem to have disappeared!
For many, the answer has been to drink, use and isolate. Treatment centers are closing at an alarming rate due to decreased census, decreased capacity and not enough space and staff to help the people who want it. Today, most meetings are virtual, the last meeting I went to in person was cancelled because the trusted servant had Covid, and my phone doesn’t have enough bandwidth, unless I am in a certain location to join a Zoom meeting, what about the password, and when I do join, I worry about the confidentiality and the hackers. Doctors say some people with a history of drug and alcohol use may be more susceptible to COVID-19 because they are more likely to have weak immune systems and have existing infections such as hepatitis C or HIV.. Where I once felt loved by a local fellowship, I now find myself isolated without a solution and failed by the fellowship!
Substance use disorder is a deadly disease. Left untreated, those who suffer will die from it; no different from untreated cancer or heart disease. So, why is isolation and quarantine so devastating to those who have Substance Use disorder?
- Isolation during active use imparts devastating effects on brain, both isolation and addiction reduce cognitive function in the brain.
- The Prefrontal Cortex, damaged by both isolation and substances, play a crucial role in social cognition which is necessary for proper social interactions.
- The human brain has evolved to maximize social interactions and biologically it is necessary for humans to be social because we depend on each in order for survival of our species.
- Stressful stimuli (Covid-19, Political Unrest, Racial unrest) all exacerbate the risk of mental illness and Substance use disorder symptoms (the cycle of drug craving and withdrawal).
- Most treatment involves creating incentives for the substance abusers to attend social gatherings and peer recovery meetings to help strengthen social ties with family and community.
- Social interactions reinforce the addicted individual with alternatives to help counteract the perceived high-reward value of drugs.
- Feelings of isolation, depression or anxiety lead to addiction. Some individuals use alcohol or drugs to function in social situations, while others struggling with loneliness use these substances as a “substitute” relationships with people.
- “Rat Park”. In this series of experiments, the scientist created a magnificent, beautiful rat park for rats to play in and socialize with one another. In the park, there were levers that would dispense drugs such as heroin, morphine, amphetamine, cocaine, etc. He found that the rats had very little interest in the drugs, compared to prior experiments where rats were provided with drug access and were isolated where they were excessively consuming drugs. Again, leading to conclude that isolation leads to more drug use were connection leads to less drug use.
- Treatment approaches commonly focus on managing interpersonal connectedness.
- Our society doesn’t really like to discuss topics of addiction.
- COVID has caused a lot of uncertainty: we are witnessing people that we care for suffering, and we are being a party to the devastation that it’s having on our world, economic turmoil, the lack of jobs. To those in recovery, this is state of enormous vulnerability for relapse. For those not in recovery, there is an incredible high risk that may lead to take even higher number of drugs.
So what do we do? How does someone who has substance use disorder survive this pandemic? How do we ensure those in recovery area able to get the service they need? Here are some tips that may help people overcome loneliness during recovery:
- Create a strong support network – online is okay, but try to keep local so once the pandemic is over, engagement with those individuals is possible.
- Connect online – Zoom AA or NA meetings, Face Book or other social media groups are very beneficial.
- Self care is key!! – Meditate, Exercise, Go outside.
- Take medications as prescribed.
- Face Book/Social media groups.
- Practice kindness! This is something that is very therapeutic and very healing. Be kind and reach out to help others. Know that there are others who care can make all the difference.
- Spend quality time with safe family and friends.
- Show up for recovery meetings and gatherings where you are able. Remember to socially distance and wear masks.
- Communicate with loved ones so they understand your situation and recovery process.
- Sign up for classes that will put you in contact with others and help you discover new interests.
- Start a project or a new hobby.
- Avoid making drastic or “big” decisions.
- Seek out professional help if you cannot do it alone. There are those who can help, in person!
It is possible to recovery during a pandemic. It takes extra work and lots of tenacity. Before AA was the huge group it is today, many people had to recover in isolation. This is nothing new. We can do this, it just takes work, but no one said it would be easy!