How Coronavirus Is Affecting the Recovery Community
In the United States, the past week has seen a real sea change in the way our federal and local governments are responding to the spreading coronavirus. In order to keep the spread in check and “flatten the curve,” governments are recommending — and even mandating — social distancing measures.
These measures are important and necessary, but they can have a negative impact on everyone’s mental health, and can be especially harmful for those of us that are recovering alcoholics.
For many recovering addicts, social support is a key component of their sobriety. When those support systems are weakened, we have to be extra-vigilant to stay sober.
This week, many in-person recovery groups have stopped meeting (including some AA groups, and some alternative recovery options). As the virus continues to spread, we can expect even more groups to close.
Furthermore, many of us are working from home (my own job got moved to work-from-home starting today), and having all kinds of our normal activities cancelled. The result is that we’re spending more time sitting around the house than ever, which can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to staying sober.
As bleak as the situation looks though, I truly believe that all of us in the recovery community can make it through this. We may have to find new tools or make a more concerted effort than usual, but the pandemic is no excuse to give up on our goals.
How to Replace Cancelled Meetings
If your typical meeting or meetings have been cancelled, the first thing to do is find out whether they’ve been moved online. Depending on what type of recovery group you go to, try reaching out to a group organizer, the host, or just your fellow members.
Many groups have been moving to an online format, meeting through video conferencing platforms like Zoom. You can read AA’s General Service Office’s memo on this for more information on how AA groups have been adjusting.
Even if your normal group hasn’t moved online, you can still search for a new online group.
- SMART Recovery has been running online groups for years. You can find a schedule here: https://www.smartrecovery.org/community/calendar.php
- The /r/stopdrinking forum on Reddit is my personal favorite online resources, although it’s in a text discussion format, not a live chat.
If you can’t find an online group that works for you, consider reaching out to some of your sober contacts to form one.
What’s Your Backup Plan?
Aside from just finding an online support group, it’s important to start thinking early about how social distancing might affect your sobriety. What hobbies will you have to put on hold? Which friends will you or won’t you see? What will you do to stay entertained.
When it comes to social support, it’s more important than ever to reach out to people when you’re having trouble. Have a plan for who to contact if you’re struggling with sobriety, and have a backup plan for who to contact if the first person isn’t available.
If your hobbies might get put on hold, take it seriously and come up with other things to do instead. For example, I started running more consistently right when I quit drinking, and it’s been instrumental in helping me stay quit.
For now, most health organizations are saying that running on your own is still okay, but I’m already starting to think about backup plans in case my city enters into a lock-down. I’ve found some online workout videos and pulled back out my weights that have been collecting dust for the past month.
Boredom can be a bigger risk to our sobriety than we like to believe. It really is important to spend time now coming up with hobbies and entertainment that can last you for months.
Don’t Let Coronavirus Become an Excuse
One more way that coronavirus could interfere with sobriety is by causing so much anxiety for so many people.
Many alcoholics— myself included — drank as a way of self-medicating our poor mental health. I spent years using alcohol as a way to cope with depression and anxiety. It can be easy to fall back into familiar patterns when those anxious feelings return.
To deal with this, I remind myself that alcohol never really helped my anxiety. It just temporarily masked it, while making the condition much worse in the long run.
Coronavirus is a serious pandemic, and it’s normal to be feeling some stress or anxiety over it. If we allow those feelings to become excuses for drinking though, then we’ll only end up making things harder for us.
Instead, let’s stay strong, and recommit to staying sober in the face of whatever life throws our way.