Today we are all facing a deadly disease, a disease that is baffling and scary and devastating to our families, communities and people we love. Until just two short months ago, these familiar words referred to a similar, but different public health crisis: the opioid epidemic. With an estimated 26 million people in recovery from the deadly disease of addiction, I wonder if the recovery community can offer reflections from the front line about how to survive and help others in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.

Before we found recovery from addiction, we knew levels of isolation that until now many have never encountered. We survived times we didn’t think we could. We lived through chaos and uncertainty. We saw friends die, family members despair and community members shake their heads in anger and frustration. We have been locked up, locked out, had our freedom taken away and wondered if it would ever end. We felt that we had lost control of our lives.

Those of us in recovery from substances learn how to live, and even to find serenity while never really escaping the daily risk of dying from our disease. We practice every day. In recovery, we learn about letting go of fear, changing the things we can, facing the reality (and powerlessness) of not being able to control many things and protecting ourselves daily from our disease by practicing positive habits and using many tools that we’ve learned from others before us. This protects us from risk and increases our chances for sustained health.

Many of the people that I’ve spoken with in these past weeks said they were flabbergasted by the speed at which the recovery community mobilized during the sudden change to social distancing, and within days – hours even – had created virtual meetings, telephone trees, social media support and other means of connecting with one another. Why did this happen so quickly? Because for us, staying connected is essential to our recovery. It’s critical for our mental health, and a buffer against the isolation that directly leads to using drugs or alcohol. Isolation feeds addiction, and in a vicious cycle, addiction feeds isolation.

This is what we in recovery know from our own experience. And I hope that it will help you, too.

You are not alone. A sense of belonging is fundamental for every human being, and there are others who feel just like you. Find them.

Stay in today. Fear lives in the future, and regret in the past, and life itself is in today. Live today the best that you can.

Begin each day with a list of gratitude. It could include something as simple as the song of a bird or the smell of your coffee, but making a gratitude list is proven to change your brain chemistry – to make you feel better.

Call a friend, or two or three. Even if you don’t feel like it. Chat about your day and ask about theirs. It doesn’t have to be more than a simple conversation. Connection is a core human need.

Read something uplifting, something inspiring that reminds you of the beauty of the world, the magnificence of nature, the mystery of the universe. Get perspective.

Organize your day. Making a daily schedule and sticking to it will give you a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Keep it simple – like making your bed, getting dressed, washing the dishes.

Be of service. In recovery, we know that one way we keep our wellness is by helping someone else. Service doesn’t need to be big – write a note to a neighbor, sit outside and wave at passers-by, recycle your trash, call your mother. Stay home.

Recognize when you’re behaving dysfunctionally, and share it with a trusted friend or mentor. You’re likely to hear, “Me, too!” Under stress, we’re all a little squirrelly. Lighten up and maybe even laugh a little at yourself. You are only human – imperfect and lovable.

If you find that you’re reaching for the bottle or pills or other substances to help you cope during this time, call us. We know just how you feel, and we can help.


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