For those who are newly sober, or have been in recovery for a decade or more, choosing sobriety is a daily decision. One that requires personal awareness, thoughtful preparation and a strong support system. But with the current restrictions in place surrounding COVID-19, people in recovery are finding themselves feeling disconnected or alone as they maintain sobriety.
“Connections with others are a tremendous source of support and strength for those in recovery. With 12-step groups being moved online and social distancing guidelines preventing meeting with sponsors and friends in person, people will have to become creative and extra vigilant about prioritizing their recovery,” says Christine Reeves, LMSW, CAADC, a licensed therapist who specializes in treating patients with addiction at Henry Ford Maplegrove Center.
Any time routines are interrupted, or stress and anxiety increases, people are at greater risk for relapse, says Reeves. This can include personal, relationship, work or financial stress. If you find yourself with thoughts of drinking or using other drugs, there are things you can do to reset your thinking. She offers the following advice for those in recovery:
1. Make a plan to stay connected to your support network. Write down a schedule outlining when you will check-in with your sponsor, peer recovery coach, family and friends and share it with them. They can help you stay accountable. A five-minute phone call with a supportive friend can help you feel connected to others. This is especially important if you live alone.
2. Take advantage of online recovery resources. The CDC’s guidelines around social distancing have led to many 12-step and other recovery groups to temporarily suspend their in-person meetings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attend. There are many free virtual groups that you can access from your smartphone or home computer, including:
- The Token Shop Online AA Meetings
- In The Rooms Global Recovery Community
- Secular AA Meetings
- Recovery Dharma Online
- Virtual NA
3. Be aware of your usual thoughts and triggers but be on the lookout for new ones. Avoiding people and places that may lead to thoughts, cravings and relapse may be easier during social distancing, but new triggers may pop up as you adjust to more time at home. For example, if you find yourself thinking about drinking or using drugs while watching a new show or listening to a piece of music, try to figure out why your actions are causing these thoughts and then redirect your mind and attention to something else. For some people, more time spent alone can be a trigger. In this case, find safe ways to stay connected to people even if you can’t be in the same room.
4. Practice mindfulness. In other words, get out of your head and be present in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about things that may happen or are out of your control. Instead focus on one moment at a time. Understand that this crisis will not last forever and you are not alone in this.
5. Embrace routines and healthy distractions. Simple routines like going to bed, waking or eating meals at the same time every day can be helpful. If you find yourself having thoughts of drinking or using other drugs, try redirecting your energy by fully engaging in healthy distractions like journaling, drawing, exercise, playing an instrument or preparing a meal. Getting lost in these activities can be very therapeutic. You can also connect with friends and family online for a virtual game night using Zoom or Skype.
6. Talk to a professional. Finally, if you find that you are unable to stop thinking about using, or have relapsed, it’s important that you contact your doctor or therapist right away. They can help you get back on track. Many providers are offering virtual care options through video chat using your smartphone or home computer. Video visits are covered by most insurance plans and are a good option when an in-person visit is not possible.
“Addiction is a chronic disease that doesn’t have a cure, only remission,” says Reeves. “Just like diabetes or high blood pressure, it must be managed every day. Understanding your condition and having a treatment plan is the best way to control it.”
To request an appointment with a Henry Ford addiction medicine doctor or therapist, call (248) 661-6100, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Virtual care options are currently available.
For up-to-date information about Henry Ford Health’s response to the coronavirus, visit henryford.com/coronavirus.
Christine Reeves, LMSW, CAADC, is a licensed social worker with advanced training in treating addiction. She sees patients at Henry Ford Maplegrove Center.