About eight years ago, when a well-known addiction writer told me she stopped going to meetings after seven years, I could not believe it. I was in my first few months of sobriety, and from day one, meeting one, I followed my specified recovery program to the letter. I was almost afraid for her at the time, that she was making a terrible mistake. 

One-hundred months later, I’m still sober, but I have experienced a series of realizations. Around the four year mark, I started to sense that I didn’t need the same level of sponsoring that I had in those early days, and at the six-year mark, meetings started feeling redundant. After seven years, I stopped going to meetings altogether. Now at 8.5 years of sobriety, I’m really glad I have the option of going to online meetings if I choose to do so, not just for myself, but to be part of the group that makes the meeting available for other people.

Right now people in recovery, especially those new to sobriety, across the country and around the world are struggling to stay sober without their usual resources — one of the most common, of course, being attendance at daily meetings. During my first year, those meetings were instrumental in my recovery, and I have no idea what my journey would have been like without it, let alone if it had been disrupted by the current pandemic — the most terrifying event, in my mind, to hit our country since 9/11. 

The same way that I don’t need the same level of therapy for PTSD from my experience on 9/11 with the same frequency as I did 10 years ago, what I need to stay sober, physically and emotionally, has also changed over time. I have maintained long term physical and emotional sobriety, as well as meaningful recovery from PTSD. So take it from someone who has been doing it: know it’s still very much possible to stay sane, sober, and give back as we continue to stay in lockdown and watch this play out. Whatever maintenance you do to take care of yourself and not drink or use drugs in 2020 is up to you. Just remember that nowhere does it say “and to stay recovered you have to go to meetings for the rest of your life” so don’t panic. 

Whatever maintenance you do to take care of yourself and not drink or use drugs in 2020 is up to you. 

While it may be challenging, it is definitely possible to stay sober without in-person meetings. 

Find Ways to be of Service

There are nonprofits still trying to serve the people they help remotely and safely, so check in on your local organizations whose purpose is to serve at-risk children, the elderly, shelter animals, etc. Just Google or check their Facebook or Instagram pages. Many of us are experiencing financial uncertainty right now, but even a single dollar can make a difference, so don’t feel intimidated or down if you can’t make a big, grand gesture. Every little bit counts, so think only about what you can afford. If you can’t afford to donate money. 

Ask an organization you care about how you can help them the skills you have by volunteering from home. You can foster a dog or cat from a shelter. Sites like DEED that need virtual volunteers to keep certain programs going, primarily for children, right now. An organization may need help figuring out how to use certain remote technology to stay operational. Just ask. They have needs, and they will tell you what they are. 

Connect with Those Around You

Stay in close touch with your friends as often as you can. We have to stay connected. Text or call at least someone in your circle of friends and family every day. 

Check on your neighbors, but do it safely—when our elderly neighbor’s package was left in the hallway for two straight days, we called our management office and asked someone to check on him to see if we could get him anything he needed and to make sure that he was okay. Turned out he was fine and the package was delivered to the wrong door. This was very fortunate, but the worst-case scenario is very real for many of our older population. Please look out for them. 

Be the change you wish you wish to see on social media! Share positive things. Check your sources. Be the bright light in someone’s feed. 

Take Good Care of Yourself

Protect your emotional sobriety and the serenity by limiting your news consumption for as long as you can. It can be really hard to feel like we “aren’t staying informed” but the information overload is undoubtedly going to hurt us. We weren’t built to consume as much news as often as we do right now, and we especially weren’t built to take in this much bad news. 

It can be really hard to feel like we “aren’t staying informed” but the information overload is undoubtedly going to hurt us.

I made the mistake of trying to see if I could handle the news by watching the short New York Times five minute documentary “People Are Dying: 72 hours in an NYC Hospital” (Not linking it. Nope) and it was the very thing that finally did rub up against some of the traumatic feelings I experienced around 9/11, so much so that I had to call my therapist first thing in the morning. It doesn’t just affect me, it affects my husband, my sensitive rescue dog, and probably my mom, and who knows how many other people through degrees of separation. 

Avoid scrolling on social media. Go directly to the pages and people you “like,” the ones that are least likely to feature posts that may ultimately upset you (well, to the best of your knowledge). Rely on a friend or family member to tell you if there is something you urgently need to know. Ask that same friend or family member to also tell you about non-pandemic related things. 

Keep talking about your feelings, triggers, resentments, and challenges with a few of the people you trust most: that might be a therapist, sponsor, life coach, best friend, or mentor. It’s important that we continue to get perspective on our thoughts and feelings and find ways to work through and process them so that we can let them go instead of letting them weigh us down. The reason I suggest 1-2 people is that once you go past that number, you may start opening the door to a flood of mixed feedback that might make you feel even more triggered, overwhelmed, and confused, but mainly, once you’ve spoken to a couple of folks about it, you’re usually in good shape. That’s just my experience. 

Keep your perspective in check. A phrase has been going around that you’re not “stuck” at home, you’re “safe” at home. 

Give into distraction by reading or watching something.  Use sites like Mercari or to find books at a discount that will ship quickly. See if your local bookstore is still shipping books. Download an e-book or audiobook. Let yourself guilt-free binge watch. Honestly, go escape into the world of whatever shows you need to. This is not the kind of binging that is going to make you sick or ruin your life (I don’t think). 

Being of service means literally putting something good out into the world in order to help someone else feel good, or safe, or heard.

Yes, being “of service” in the traditional, 12-step meeting sense is making coffee or doing step work with a sponsee. But we can give back in so many more ways than just these. Being of service means literally putting something good out into the world in order to help someone else feel good, or safe, or heard. It means helping in the ways you can rather than feeling guilty or frustrated that you can’t help in the ways you want to but can’t. You can stay sober without the traditional means.

Most importantly, from someone who has witnessed and lived through what felt like the end of the world and thought nothing would ever be okay again, remember that at some point, it will be over. We don’t know when, but it will be over, and it will get better. If we keep trying to be our best selves and be just a little better for someone or something else along the way, there may be something small to smile about when we look back at this horrific time.