The 2020 coronavirus epidemic has caused havoc and destruction throughout the world, impacting every area of people’s lives regardless of race, creed, or nationality.
Apart from the rapidly increasing death toll, this scourge has seen businesses close, families separated, and human freedoms severely restricted. It’s a trying time for people everywhere, and even more so for an addict who has only recently embarked on their new journey of staying sober.
To make matters worse, Alcoholics Anonymous has called an end to in-person meetings for the first time in its existence. This leaves members vulnerable to relapse. For many, private counselors are off-limits and the fellowship offered by others in recovery seems like a distant dream.
Dealing with panic and fear is difficult enough even for people with many years of sobriety under their belts. How are those who are new to recovery going to go about staying sober during this pandemic?
More importantly, what advice can you give them to ensure they do? Fortunately, there are a few tips you can offer your patients to help them get through this situation sober.
Talk to Someone
AA’s offices may have closed for now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t business as usual for the organization. Alcoholics Anonymous has branches in every country worldwide and helplines to go along with them.
Alcoholics shouldn’t hesitate to call these numbers to hear a friendly voice who understands exactly what they’re going through. Naturally, this service is anonymous and free to anyone who needs it, regardless of whether they’ve ever attended an AA meeting before.
There’s guaranteed to be someone on the end of the line who’s willing and able to listen with empathy and compassion. The power of unstructured, non-judgemental support is one of the pillars upon which AA is built.
At this time, it’s vital for everyone with an addiction to stay in touch with their sponsor, or to find a sponsor if they don’t have one. Simply talking to someone more experienced is often just the balm that’s needed to make it through another day.
As an addiction counselor, it’s important to ensure your patients have access to all the relevant resources to help them through life’s ups and downs.
Staying in the Middle of the Boat
Online support groups aren’t a novelty in the realm of addiction therapy. They exist as ongoing support for people living in remote areas, as well as those who can’t attend meetings regularly.
The best part about online meetings is that they have no geographical boundaries. Participants can sign in from anywhere in the world, almost around the clock thanks to varying time zones.
There are millions of recovering addicts scattered across the globe dedicated to helping one another. So, support is at hand for anyone who asks.
Dealing With Fear Constructively
Fear is one of the driving forces that leads people to seek escape in addictive substances. Usually, this fear stems from anxiety born of underlying low self-esteem.
People with a substance disorder frequently take mental trips backward and forward in time to toy with feelings of guilt and anxiety respectively. These uncomfortable, yet familiar, feelings and sometimes unfounded fears are a part of daily life for an addict. Often, they’ve been around since their teenage years.
Now, people with addiction disorders all over the world have every reason to be afraid. Not only is there a deadly virus out there, but they’re cut off from the very support system that’s been helping to keep them sober all along.
It’s important to realize that this time, it isn’t all in their mind—the fight or flight urge is perfectly understandable right now. Yet, they must also recognize it as no more than a primitive and natural response to a dangerous situation.
Unless it’s a physical threat, fear is the same emotion whether it’s legitimate or not. It helps when you learn to recognize it and deal with it before it takes hold.
As such, the best way to cope with worry and fear is to focus on the here and now, to harness racing anxieties and bring their thoughts back to the present moment. Mindfulness exercises like centering their attention entirely on a sound, smell or object in the ‘real’ world is an effective way to achieve a sense of the present.
It’s important for people with a substance disorder to practice mastery over fear on their own. Group therapy, individual counseling, and telephonic support are not a crutch. In the mind of an addict, the absence of such a crutch is easily confused with an excuse to relapse.
Acceptance Is Key
Acceptance is the very first step on the road to recovery, and it doesn’t only refer to accepting ones’ addiction as an undisputed fact.
It also refers to accepting the situation for what it is and relinquishing the desire to control it. This can be a difficult aspect for people with addictions, as many have a natural urge to control situations in an attempt to quell their fears.
While in active addiction, people spend much of their time raging against the injustices surrounding them. They wage an inner, and sometimes more obvious, battle against things they cannot change.
Accepting the COVID 19 pandemic as an unpleasant fact and not a personal attack against them is the first step to get through this crisis sober and sane. After all, coping with sobriety is enough of a challenge on its own without extra stress.
The focus should be on what they can do about their own environment to stay safe and sober.
Fortunately, the instructions for avoiding infection from the coronavirus are simple enough. Self-isolation and social distancing also make it a little easier to avoid the temptations of everyday life, such as bars and liquor stores.
They also make it easier for someone to fall off the wagon in relative privacy. One way for counselors to keep their patients on the straight and narrow is by checking in on them periodically with a phone call or message.
Handing It Over
Faith in a higher power is one of the main tenets of AA and one of the hardest to adopt. It’s the kind of faith that can overcome any obstacle for as long as it’s nurtured.
This higher power can take any form. Many people choose God as their higher power and many choose the strength of the AA group consciousness.
It can take years to fully establish this connection with some kind of power greater than ourselves, and it’s something that many people struggle with in early addiction. However, it’s a vital part of recovery, since few people can stand the test of time relying solely on their own resources.
Self-isolation is the perfect time for those new to recovery to reflect on this concept, read more about spirituality, and try to develop this sense that something out there is looking out for them. Those who aren’t comfortable with this approach could spend the time coming to terms with the idea that no amount of worrying, or drinking, is going to change the course of what’s to come.
Learning the Power of One
Isolation and loneliness easily turn into brooding and depression for someone with an addiction.
Keeping busy with hobbies, chores, and reading are some of the best tips for staying sober when social interactions are few and far between. Mindfulness meditation is also an excellent tonic for depression and anxiety.
Self-care, especially with regard to diet, exercise, and rest, is an important part of recovery. Now is a good time for all of us to ensure we’re giving ourselves the best care possible.
Those that subscribe to the AA way of doing things would be wise to keep their Big Book close at hand during these trying times and to read it often. Now’s also a good time for a refresher course on steps 1 through 12 of this program without the distractions of everyday life.
Addicts in early recovery should avoid social media as much as they can since users often place sensationalist and unverified information on these sites. One news show a day is sufficient to stay abreast of the latest developments and still maintain a calm demeanor.
Staying Sober Means Staying Alive
Alcohol and drugs can seriously undermine the human immune system. That means that right now, staying sober is even more important than ever before.
If you want to learn more about how to help people recover from the ravages of addiction and avoid relapse, keep reading our blog.
Better yet, sign up for one of our accredited certifications. We’ll ensure you’re up to date with all the latest information and skills needed to assist your patients to get sober and stay sober, no matter what.