It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, most of us had no idea what COVID-19 was or how it would impact our daily lives in the coming months. As most everyone now knows, COVID-19, more commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, is a respiratory virus that hit China in December 2019 and quickly began spreading across countries and eventually, continents.
Now, with Coronavirus impacting the majority of the world, the general public is being told to practice precautionary measures even if they appear to be healthy. We are being advised to do seemingly simple things like frequently and thoroughly wash our hands and more challenging things like practicing “social distancing”. Social distancing refers to efforts to keep people away from crowded areas and include measures like working from home and canceling large gatherings and events.
The impact that measures like social distancing and self-quarantining will have on our collective mental health is already being felt in the countries where Coronavirus has been an issue for the last few months. But many of us in recovery from substance use disorders worry about ourselves and others in the recovery community because many of us depend on regular in-person interaction with others as a means to protect our sobriety.
Here are some tips for maintaining social connection while practicing precautionary measures like social distancing.
1. Take advantage of online recovery resources.
Several months into recovery, I realized that in-person support was a necessity for me. I got involved with a local Alcoholics Anonymous women’s group and found the face to face support I needed. But with warnings to avoid group gatherings, what are those of us who rely on in-person support groups and meetings to do?
There are a variety of free online resources and recovery communities that anyone can participate in if in-person support is not possible. One of the first online sobriety resources I was introduced to by a sober friend was Reddit’s Stop Drinking thread. This is an online community where people do daily check-ins, ask questions, and share their advice on getting sober and maintaining sobriety.
If you’re looking to attend online meetings, check out In The Rooms. In The Rooms describes itself as “a global recovery community” where you can find actual live meetings from fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous, Refuge Recovery, Life Ring, and many others. You can choose whether or not to turn your camera on so it can be as anonymous as you’d like it to be.
There are also entire online recovery programs like Tempest Sobriety School, which is one of the programs I used to get sober. Tempest will be ramping up its free online content to help those of us stuck at home away from our usual support systems. (Editor’s note: Tempest is the parent company of The Temper.)
There are many organizations that provide online meetings and support, so make sure you find what you need.
2. Reach out to a sober person.
Many of us in recovery may tend toward practicing less than healthy coping mechanisms like self-isolating when things get tough. It’s even harder to keep ourselves mentally well and socially connected when the government is actually encouraging us to isolate ourselves from others through social distancing and self-quarantining.
Make a point to check in with someone sober every day, whether by phone call, text, DM, or in an online sober community. Talking with a fellow sober person can help us remember our priorities and why drinking or using drugs never made any situation better or easier — a fact that seems obvious but can be really hard to convince ourselves of during a difficult moment.
Also, make it a point to check-in on people who are sober and might be struggling. Early sobriety (which everyone defines differently) can be a precarious time in general and even more so when in-person support is limited or unavailable. Not to mention that being home alone could be a big trigger for some since many of us preferred drinking (or using) at home alone by the end of our drinking careers.
Check-in on those who you know are new to sobriety or those who have had a major life change like having a baby, going through a divorce, or a death in the family. Make sure they are taking care of themselves and getting the support they need. But remember, do not prioritize anyone else’s recovery over your own. Put your own oxygen mask on before you try to start assisting others.
3. Read recovery literature.
When I got sober, I was so thrilled to learn that there is a whole genre of literature dedicated to the topic of addiction and recovery, mostly in the form of memoir. One of my favorites is the memoir Lit by Mary Karr. It’s an incredible account of her alcohol addiction and subsequent recovery. Another book that came out recently that I absolutely loved is As Needed For Pain, a memoir by Dan Peres which chronicles a young journalist’s spiral into an addiction to pain pills and how he got clean. If you’re looking for a shorter read, check out Nothing Good Can Come From This, a collection of essays by Kristi Coulter.
Reading first-hand accounts of addiction and recovery can help us to feel less alone in times where we are spending more time than usual by ourselves. Studies have actually shown that reading or listening to an audiobook can alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation. A book isn’t a replacement for a relationship with a person, but it might help you get by during a period of loneliness.
Here is a list of recovery memoirs written by women if you’re not sure where to begin.
4. Dig into a show that has a realistic portrayal of addiction and recovery.
I spent a lot of time in early recovery watching TV and movies about addiction and recovery, just trying to find a story that mirrored my own. What I found was that TV and movies often get addiction and recovery wrong, portraying only the extremes and stereotypes. But there are actually some good shows out there that portray these issues in a realistic way.
I love this topic so much that I’ve written multiple articles about it! Here are my recommendations on TV comedies that cover addiction and recovery realistically and here is my review of the HBO dramedy Euphoria, which blew me away with its realistic depiction of addiction which it aired last year.
5. Spend time outside.
While we have been warned to avoid public spaces as much as possible for the time being, there are still pockets of outdoor space that most of us can take advantage of and it’s important for our mental health that we do so. Even if we are alone, spending time outside reminds us we are a part of something larger than the microcosm of our home. Whether your house has a backyard or your apartment has a balcony or a sidewalk in front, find a space that you can spend at least 5-10 minutes at a time in the fresh air. Spending time outside has been shown to have many benefits such as boosting mood, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing anxiety.
While there is no substitute for in-person support, there are absolutely ways to maintain a social connection while practicing safety measures like social distancing during this global pandemic. It may require you to think outside the box or to try resources you had never considered, but it is possible. The impact that social distancing has on our mental health is a good reminder of how much we really need one another. Whether in person or online, we are social creatures and we depend on each other for our survival and our recovery.
Editor’s note: If your sobriety is at risk and these measures aren’t enough, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to get in touch with a treatment provider.