The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for addicts both in and out of recovery. For those of us in recovery, we have much to be grateful for. It is FAR safer to be sober right now than to be drinking or using. For alcoholics and addicts who are in using, the current dangers are perilous.
Heavy drinking damages the resource we need now more than ever – the immune system. Even if you’re quarantining alone and drinking, you are putting yourself at greater risk for contracting and fighting off COVID-19. And, now is the worst time to be out on the streets seeking drugs. If you’re using and drinking and reading this, I want to encourage you to seek help. I KNOW getting sober may sound impossible right now. We are all grieving something. Life is stressful. Change is frightening. But, please keep reading. Because today’s darkness and fear could very well become tomorrow’s hope and light.
I know you’re asking yourself why you should you listen to me? I wasn’t in the midst of my addiction during a pandemic. But, I was in active addiction on September 11, 2001, which was another life-changing, world-changing disaster. I am from New Jersey and grew up minutes from New York City. As a result of my addiction, I ended up homeless and moved to Atlanta – simply because it offered me a place to stay. I watched my home go up in flames from 800 miles away. I wanted nothing more than to get to my family and couldn’t – because all planes were grounded. That mandated separation did feel similar to the COVID-19 quarantine that currently keeps me from my parents, my brother, and his family.
So, I have lived through tragedy and great change, too. Rather than let the disaster help me grow, though, I stayed stuck in active addiction for years afterwards. You don’t have to follow in my footsteps.
On 9/11, like the rest of the world, I watched in horror as the planes crashed into the World Trade Centers. It felt VERY personal to me. All my life, I would travel up a hill to get home and see the Trade Centers gleaming in the distance. I was in active addiction, and as New York City and people around the US rallied and reimagined a new world, I stayed stuck. I could NOT see that the world was changing and that meant that I could change with it. I did not let the stories of human resilience convince me of my own.
And, I wish I had. Because 9/11 was devastating, but not entirely unlike COVID-19. The goodness of people was on the news daily. Unlikely heroes circled the nation in incredible and inspiring ways. Unity and the need for human connection grew like the heart does in the Grinch’s chest every Christmas. Hope was all around, but I could not see it.
I was so short-sighted. Through the eyes of an addict, I could only see despair after the towers fell. But, last year, I drove into New York City with my parents for the billionth time in my life. I’ve been sober a long time, but because I live in Atlanta, I hadn’t seen the City at night in decades. And, as my father drove, I saw new skyscrapers lit up in bright, colorful lights. The skyline was different, but the City was alive, beautiful, and somehow better than the morning those planes crashed. And, it reminded me of the circle of life, and how when I got sober, I couldn’t see that what lies just beyond tragedy is healing.
Now is a challenging time to get sober. Social distancing makes attending meetings a little more complicated. We can’t hold hands. We can’t all go to Starbucks after a meeting, and sit under umbrellas as we work steps with our sponsors. Many of us are isolated from our families and friends. All of us are worried about our own health or the health of someone we love. Some of us have lost people to this virus. Others have lost jobs and are facing food and housing insecurity. I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are all experiencing a sense of grief right now. And, that’s a tough pill to swallow. But, it doesn’t mean we can’t rise through it. Together.
I encourage you to get sober DURING THIS CRISIS for your own health and well-being. But, to do that fairly, Breakthrough Recovery Outreach wants you to know that we have counselors and staff that are trained to help you develop coping skills to get through the crisis that is COVID-19. We want to walk with down this path and into the sunlight with you. It won’t happen overnight. But, if you want that light as badly as you want to breathe, it waits for you. And, I say this not because it is my opinion, but because it is my experience with Chris Jacobs, and the program he offered me.
I met Chris Jacobs fourteen years ago. I was not happy to meet him. I did NOT want to enter residential treatment. I was suicidal. I had no idea how I was going to experience emotion AND live at the same time. I was grieving a death I’d never allowed myself to feel, a life I’d demolished, the drugs I’d come to rely on, and childhood trauma. Ask me how Alcoholics Anonymous, sponsorship, and residential recovery works, and, I’ll tell you that they work just like New York City worked after 9/11, just how the world is working now, and how it will also work after COVID-19.
When you are newly sober, it can feel like a tragedy. You ask for help or are forced to get help in the middle of what feels like an avalanche. You’re sweating with fear. You’re crying. You’re angry. You’re hopeless. You see only darkness and death – because you’re now uniquely aware of the fragility of your own life. You walk like a zombie from place to place trying to feel nothing while feeling everything. Sunlight blinds you. Sounds hurt. And, you become your own first responder. You don’t know that staying sober and remaining in treatment has turned you into someone who is willing to fight hard to save a life, but it has.
During this haze, if you angrily get a sponsor, crankily share in meetings, grumble to yourself as you work the steps you don’t even believe in yet, something incredible happens. You begin rebuilding yourself.
You become New York City after 9/11 and clear the wreckage until the ground beneath you feels solid, and you sort of recognize yourself again. The sunlight stops hurting. Instead, you begin to gravitate toward it like a sunflower stretching its head forward. And, out of the blue one day it occurs to you that you were afraid and angry at the chance to rebuild and reimagine yourself into someone who is brighter and more beautiful than before.
New York City became bigger and better after 9/11. Now, as we all fight COVID-19, stories from around the globe remind us of the resilience of the human spirit. People are finding new ways to connect with nature, their friends, their families, and their faith. In the face of darkness, we rise – that’s the human experience – if we choose it to be.
Give yourself the chance to get sober. Rebuild a new city, name it after yourself, and reclaim your spirit. It’s hard work, it’s worth it, and you deserve it.
Please get sober and stay well.
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