Throughout the last year and a half of the Coronavirus Era, we’ve learned what we truly need when it comes to social behaviors while in recovery. Losing the connection of so many ways to have fellowship, like AA and NA meetings, many lost sight of how to maintain a structured support network. Some folks saw the shut down as time to brush up on some of their hobbies. Many people took the shut down as a time to remodel their homes or their routines for that matter. Others however, saw the shut down as a much darker time. Closing themselves off from what was still available. Losing connection with more than just their support network, but even with themselves.
Maintaining sobriety requires ongoing, daily intentionality. It requires preparation, structure, and personal insight of oneself – personal knowledge of what someone finds stressful versus what someone finds rejuvenating. Staying in recovery also requires an engaged and supportive community. Like everyone else, folks in recovery from addiction are now finding their support systems overburdened, their self-care skills challenged, and their vulnerability at a high-point, regardless of past effort invested into personal wellness. Even those without a formal diagnosis of substance use disorder and those who aren’t in active addiction treatment are finding themselves on the edge. Alcohol sales – which have seen a 26% rise in year-over-year overall sales and a 400+% increase in alcohol delivery services – tell the tale. People aren’t buying all that alcohol to hoard in the event of an economic cataclysm – they’re locked in their homes, drinking at never-before-seen rates. Mental health professionals call this behavior “self-medication” – people are using whatever they can get their hands on to alleviate stress and get through this crisis. Or friends and neighbors are joining others in social media trends and delivering surprise wine and drink kits as “porch drop offs” without asking if anyone in the home is at risk. Restaurants are now able to serve alcohol to go.
People are able to access alcohol like never before. Unfortunately, that list doesn’t stop with alcohol – it includes opioids like heroin and fentanyl, the use of which leads directly to spikes in overdose deaths, even in communities where tremendous progress was being made in addressing the opioid epidemic. All the pent up stress is coming out in other tragic ways too, with a dramatic uptrend in domestic violence sweeping the world. The worst of it? The fact that while some states are starting the process of reopening, we don’t have a true sense of when everything will go back to “normal.” And the longer we stay locked away – isolated, self-medicating – the greater the certainty that more people will come out of this crisis clinically depressed addicted to alcohol or drugs. So what do we do? We have to start talking about it. We have to start normalizing the conversation to tell someone you need help. Or to reach out for help for ourselves. If we have learned anything during this time, it’s that we can directly access just about any service we need, through other means than being in person.
Learning ways to cope with our anxiety and stress are imperative. In the now DIY phase of the shut down, we can see that there are many ways to help ourselves in fashions we may never have considered before.
A simple place to start? Control your breath by learning diaphragmatic breathing. Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Listen to music, engage in guided imagery exercises – there are countless apps for this now. Learn mindfulness – in other words, realize that it is understandable to feel anxious about the future. Allow yourself to experience those feelings without judgment – only then will they pass through you. Mindfulness can also build self-awareness – which will help you identify cravings and triggers for alcohol or drug use – or stress-eating, anger outbursts, and other self-destructive behaviors. In other words, it’s something helpful even for those without a formal diagnosis of addiction. Once you notice a craving or trigger, ask yourself why you’re experiencing these thoughts and redirect your attention to something else. Journaling, reading, drawing, exercise, cooking, playing music – all are just examples of activities you can get wrapped up into in a healthy way. As tough as it sounds, we can build a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation. Have enough supplies, yes – but don’t hoard. Be sure you have enough medication you may need – over-the-counter, prescribed, and for children. Stay connected to your healthcare provider – call them if you have concerns and ask about telehealth options for appointments. Most providers, including those providing addiction treatment services, have started offering more telehealth options.
Maybe your entire living situation needs to change. Maybe being alone in your apartment is making things so much worse than you ever imagined. Have you considered sober living or recovery housing? You can increase the amount of support that you have in your life by 80% by entering into a recovery housing program. Most recovery housing programs offer housing much cheaper than market rate, but more than that, the family like atmosphere will give you the support that you need to get through this unprecedented time. You can look into finding a quality housing organization by searching through NARR the National Alliance of Recovery Residences, in your state.