Diana Dubbs is a resident of Mercer County. In recovery herself, Dubbs works in the substance use disorder and mental health field. For more information, go online or call (609) 851-2499.
I haven’t been to a traditional recovery meeting in almost two months.
For me — like other addicts and alcoholics — meetings can be a lifeline. The precautions everyone needs to take during this pandemic to protect not only ourselves but our loved ones, neighbors and society from this virus have the adverse effect of putting those in recovery at risk. In other words, the current state of isolation for people like me could be deadly.
Alcoholics and drug addicts hate the unknown. We hate not being able to control outcomes and dictate our circumstances and surroundings. When will we be able to attend our meetings, which many of us rely upon with urgency to keep us not only sober but also sane? This Covid-19 business is torturous for us in more ways than one.
In 2013, I got sober. I lost the urge to put a mind-altering substance in my body, through no power that I could call my own. When I walked out of treatment on Thanksgiving morning 2013, my therapists and clinicians said things like, “Make sure you find people like you” and “Get to a meeting as soon as possible.”
Traditionally the table at home would have been filled with wine glasses and drunken stories. That day, it was filled only with nervous laughter and water glasses on the table.
I felt like a stranger in my own home. I couldn’t wait to “find people like me.” Later that evening, I made my way to my first recovery meeting. I have been attending ever since.
Naturally, when Covid-19 hit and social distancing went into effect, meetings started to close. Because, let’s get serious, 20 alcoholics in a room are not practicing social distancing. I immediately started to panic. I’m not sure why, because my recovery has never failed me.
It didn’t this time, either. Soon my phone started ringing, with my recovery family on the other end of the line. They called to say hello, or checked in with text messages.
We scheduled Zoom meetings in place of regular meetings in our area. We added even more Zoom meetings for those of us who need a more intimate setting. It’s been fine for me, but for those who are new to recovery, the adjustment has not been as smooth.
Today, I am not only a member of the recovery world, I also work in the field of addiction services. I work remotely from Mercer County for a treatment center based in Western Pennsylvania, trying to help individuals access resources for recovery.
The quarantine in New Jersey has made it extremely difficult to enforce the necessity of drug and alcohol treatment. It has provided increased accessibility to alcohol with minimal consequences for daily drinkers, due to being restricted to home.
Families who have been otherwise been educated to hold strict boundaries fear pushing loved ones who are engaging in risky behavior out in a risky health environment. Suddenly, the world became captivated with treating an unknown disease while an already existing epidemic took a backseat. As the Covid cases increased, bed capacity for anything else decreased.
Quarantine has invoked a self-isolation in people in recovery by making meetings less accessible. For those who are less diligent in their recovery, virtual recovery programs become less identifiable and less emotionally responsive. It is easier for a person to go through the motions of recovery and think they are doing OK until their emotional walls implode.
I have seen women and men, as their time removed from mind-altering substances increases, start to suffer from PTSD that seemed long laid to rest. Or anxiety issues that we have learned coping behaviors for suddenly cannot be controlled.
Since social distancing began, I have had calls from adolescents seeking mental health treatment for depression disorders and increased shopping addictions, online gambling addictions and food compulsions. These behaviors, from a substance use disorder perspective, are the first steps to a relapse if not properly managed.
Isolation for a person like me can be deadly. And I have seen the indicators that the world is more like me than I thought.
Access to treatment and mental health services have been limited in the State of New Jersey due to an impending need for Covid-19 bed capacity, and stricter restrictions and regulations have been placed upon assessing patients in order to prevent potential spread. The fear of the unknown continues to limit availability to basic services New Jersey has otherwise created access to.
However, these services are still available. Facilities offering state-funded treatment for substance use disorder and mental health have continued to accept patients without symptoms, though at a much slower pace to limit the quantity of people in one location at one time.
Privately operating facilities have done the same, most offering rapid Covid-19 tests on site, with quarantine precautions in place until results arrive. Outpatients and therapists quickly adapted to telehealth services, offering virtual group and individual sessions via Zoom or other virtual platforms protected by HIPAA, and treatment advocacy groups continue to connect people to various forms of recovery as we have all conformed to technology being our vehicle to deliver mental health and substance use disorder services.
The pandemic is serious, and we need to respect it. But it is not an excuse to allow our loved ones to continue with behaviors that can potentially hurt themselves or others. If you or someone you know is suffering from active mental health or substance use disorder, know that we have not stopped offering services, we have just adapted.
Yes, Covid-19 has taken much from us. But it has also given us the opportunity to live in service, helping as well as accepting help from others. The stress and challenges are real for addicts and alcoholics, but they are not insurmountable. We can be a lifeline for someone else and become not only a solution, but a blessing to those in need.