To paraphrase an old adage, you never really miss something until it’s gone. Before the initial wave of the global pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, access to work, school, friends and neighbors, and nearby family was readily available, as were addiction treatment centers and other mental health supports. Almost overnight, people were forced to sequester in their homes for months. Most public interactions were reduced to slightly raised voices across a 6-foot divide or panes of plexiglass, and many of those critical forms of connection we took for granted quickly retreated into the background, some disappearing altogether.
Isolation and loneliness are major risk factors for substance abusers, and positive social connections can often mean the difference between recovery and relapse. As such, the past year has taken a tremendous toll on the mental health of substance abusers entering into and trying to maintain recovery. According to a 2020 nationwide survey of people who suffer from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), 20 percent of respondents stated that their own or a family member’s substance abuse has increased since the start of the pandemic. Three-quarters of those who responded to the study, conducted by the Addiction Policy Forum, said they also experienced emotional changes due to the pandemic, including increased worry (62 percent), sadness (51 percent), fear (51 percent), and loneliness (42 percent).
Today, the need for those in addiction recovery to build and maintain solid connections has never been greater. With so much uncertainty and fear around when and if our communities will ever get back to ‘normal,’ we think it’s important to focus on what we can do for ourselves right now. Here are some ideas to help you stay connected in today’s socially-distanced environment:
● Take advantage of telemedicine to continue your therapy. Just because in-person visits may temporarily be on hold does not mean your recovery should be on hold, too. Patient providers have made great strides in the past year to maximize the use of telehealth technology, to a point where this kind of therapy is proving just as effective as standard in-person therapy.
● Join an online support group. Addiction thrives on isolation because of the embarrassment and shame that comes with it. Connecting with a group of people going through similarly difficult issues gives you a forum to openly express your feelings and fears in a safe, judgment-free zone. If you have already been through a recovery treatment program, such as the one we have here at Renaissance Ranch, be sure to check if there are any alumni groups available where you can stay in touch with the friends you made while in recovery. One of the most important things we can remind ourselves of while in recovery is that we are not alone.
● Come up with fun and creative ways to interact with friends and family. Joining your brother for an online dance class or virtual tour, playing a board game with your cousins over FaceTime, or starting an outdoor yoga group with neighbors are all excellent ways to stay engaged and connected. Plan to connect; don’t just wait for it to happen. Schedule these activities into your calendar and keep them, no excuses. Sometimes, these events will coincide with times when you want to isolate and don’t feel like being social at all, but push through and do them anyway. It could make all the difference that day.
● Give back. There is nothing that will help more to get you out of your own head than serving others. Service lifts both the giver and the receiver. Whether you enjoy tutoring, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or cleaning up a local park, there are plenty of opportunities to safely serve others both online and in-person. Some top websites for volunteering include VolunteerMatch.org, AllForGood.org, and JustServe.org. For an added connection benefit, take along a friend and serve together.
● Sometimes Connecting Means Disconnecting. Doing everything virtually can take its toll, so don’t feel like you can’t take a break now and then. Turn off your computer, unplug from social media, and put down your phone. If you live with someone, spend more meaningful time together that doesn’t involve a screen – play a game, plant a garden, make a meal, have a S’mores roast on the back patio. The same goes if you live alone. Make the time to be more mindful and aware. Work and other stressors can wait while you recharge and reconnect with yourself and those around you.
If you still find yourself struggling, please reach out for help. We offer recovery support for adult men dealing with addiction. Building and maintaining solid connections is vital to your recovery, whether you’re just beginning your journey or if you have been on this road for several years already. For more resources on addiction recovery, contact the caring professionals at our Christian-based rehabilitation center.