During the coronavirus pandemic, recovery support moves online - North Carolina Health News
By Taylor Knopf
As 9 p.m. approaches, a Zoom meeting screen fills with several grids of 168 faces, all ages and races represented.
A middle-aged African-American woman sits at a desk and pulls out a notebook and pen. A young white woman rolls out dough on her kitchen counter. An older white man sits still in a chair facing the wall next to him.
The moderator asks everyone to mute themselves and to turn off their video if they are eating, smoking or vaping. This is a meeting for anyone in recovery, whether it be mental health, substance use or any kind of addiction or disorder.
“Let’s start with a moment of silence to remember why we are here,” the moderator says. Some bow their heads.
Today’s topic of conversation: Finding peace. The queue fills with people ready to share.
The first speaker says he’s in recovery from alcohol and he’s found peace by pushing out negative thoughts and avoiding the 24/7 news cycle on the coronavirus pandemic.
The next speaker says he’s 90 days sober and finding peace by focusing on his sobriety.
Meanwhile, the chatbox fills with comments of support and affirmation. Some even greet the person sharing, saying “nice to see you again.”
One woman — who said she’s “in recovery from a plethora of things” — shared that the facility she was part of was forced to close due to the virus outbreak, and the transitions have been hard on her. She thanks members of the group for the connections she’s made.
Another man said he’s found peace in the downtime during the pandemic. Due to a busy lifestyle, he said he hadn’t been able to focus on his sobriety. Now he’s taking this time to reset his priorities.
As people share one by one, others nod in agreement.
Several people mention the pandemic. Some are struggling with isolation. Many say they rely on these meetings and attend several each day when they feel stressed.
‘You’re not alone’
Group meetings where people share and support one another is a key aspect of the recovery community at large.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, interrupting that fellowship. People are being asked across the globe to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. So, like many others, the recovery community moved online.
Several recovery nonprofits across the United States joined together at the website Recovery Link to offer multiple daily online recovery meetings and free peer support during the pandemic. The majority of meetings are open groups for anyone in any kind of recovery, whether it be mental health, substance use, trauma or an eating disorder.
“As people are on lockdown, this is a tremendous need for people in early recovery. But really it’s for everyone,” said Robert Ashford, an organizer with Unity Recovery in Pennsylvania, one of the groups spearheading these online recovery resources.
Know of an online group in our state? Let us know by clicking the CONTACT button at the top of the page.
Coordinating and moderating these online recovery resources takes a lot of work on the back end and probably wouldn’t have been possible technologically just a few years ago, Ashford said. Moving the recovery community online has had a silver lining, too.
“It has the benefit of showing people that the recovery community is as large as advocates and researchers have been saying,” Ashford said. “When you see hundreds of people coming together across the world, it makes people feel like they are not alone.”
“It’s hard to have 250 in a physical location,” he said. “It’s much easier to do in a digital space.”
In March, more than 2,000 people accessed these resources on a daily basis across several countries, Ashford said. Each meeting caps at 1,000 people, but most have a couple hundred each.
People who are in drug court or need to attend meetings to fulfill their probation requirements can fill out an online form for each meeting they attend. Ashford said those requirements haven’t been waived in some places.
Ashford said the group is committed to offering these free meetings and supports at least through the summer at this point.
NC recovery high school moves online
In North Carolina, the budding recovery high school in Charlotte has moved its classes and support structure online as well.
The Emerald School of Excellence opened in September, and it’s a place for teens who have been through treatment for substance use disorders. The goal is to help young people continue their education and recovery while living at home.
Because the core classes are already provided online, transitioning to digital learning at home in mid-March wasn’t too difficult, said the school’s founder and director Mary Ferreri. The school day always starts with a recovery support meeting, and that meeting where the students check in with each other is still held online.
But a key part of the recovery school is the extras: the life skills classes, the art, music, physical activities and off-campus field trips. Those are more difficult to do during the pandemic, Ferreri said. She’s brought some of the scheduled guest speakers to the students via video conference calls. And the instructors are encouraging students to still be active outside. Ferreri said a few have taken to fishing lately.
Ferreri said she’s been surprised by the new enrollment during this time. Emerald’s gained two new students since the pandemic hit, bringing the total number to seven. She expects a couple more might join the school by the end of the month.
“During this time, it feels like there’s more and more support needed for mental health and substance use disorders,” she said. “So I just think about making sure that we can be strategic and let families know we can support them. We can do a lot of the enrollment process online or virtually, and still have students join us.”
With disrupted schedules and added stress, Ferreri said there’s a lot of discussion with the students about leaning on the recovery foundation they’ve built so far and using the tools and coping mechanisms they have.
“We also talk a lot about making sure that they’re not just getting what they need to stay full and thriving in recovery, but who are they reaching out to who really need support and guidance and those reminders?” she said. “They need to share it back out.”
Individual and group support
There are open recovery meetings, but also ones for specific groups, such as women, the LGBTQ community, those in AA recovery, people on medication-assisted treatment and, groups for loved ones of someone in recovery.
One recovery meeting Ferreri said her students like is Queen City Young People in AA, which has also moved its meetings online.
A group called Life Aide is holding virtual events and meetings for military veterans and first responders.