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Addiction stops for nothing. It doesn’t wait. It doesn’t choose its time. It can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age, race, gender, corona virus or no corona virus. So what happens to those addicts reaching rock bottom, ready for recovery when there’s a global pandemic and the world is in lockdown?

There are no in-person AA/ NA meetings at the moment but there are rehabs still open. Rehabs admitting addicts at the start of their recovery journey in desperate need of help. And it is only because of the wondrous heroes working in those rehabs that this is possible.

I wanted to speak to those people, going about their – quite literally – life-saving jobs in spite of corona virus. Jobs that are utterly essential and entirely under-appreciated. Jobs requiring immeasurable empathy, humility and love and where social distancing isn’t always possible.

I spoke to Pete, a recovering addict who has just celebrated 3 years clean! His role as a support worker in a rehab includes accepting admissions, clinical observations, distributing medication, maintenance of client records, general welfare and support, and under normal circumstances, accompanying clients to 12 step meetings.

There’s an unmatched resilience and capacity to adapt in adverse circumstances that often shines through in a recovering addict, and I believe Pete embodies this beautifully. 

What did a normal day look like in the rehab, before the pandemic?

Work starts at 7.30am with a handover from night staff. We would get clients up at 8am for meds and breakfast, then clients go into groups all morning. We are left to clear up breakfast and empty cups. Lunch is at 12.30pm, meds at 1pm. Groups start again at 2pm and we clear up lunch. We complete patient notes during the afternoon. Tea is at 5.30pm, meds at 6pm. We also clear up tea and finish the day at 7.30pm, with a handover to night staff.

Groups include workshops on addiction, co-dependency, 12 steps, SMART, ACT, group process, check ins and check outs, music groups, art groups, and counselling workshops and therapies.

How has this been affected by lockdown? What changes have there been in terms of staffing, your role and daily structure?

There was a decrease in admissions at the peak of lock down but as we have put screening processes in place the numbers are creeping up again. People need help and we continue to provide that. We just have to safeguard clients and staff alike.

Not much has changed in our daily structure though, as we try to keep things running smoothly and as normally as possible for residents.

However, there are no visitors to the centre for residents now & we don’t take residents into town or 12 step meetings. They have to engage in meetings online a couple of times a week. 

They can go on socially distanced walks once or twice a week. We have precautions in place for admissions, and carry out health checks on everyone regularly to keep an eye on any changes in wellness. There are staff off due to the lockdown, so we are having to fill in for them the best we can.

How are the residents coping with no visits, and how are they finding online meetings? 

They are mostly new during lockdown so are used to no visits at the moment. But yes it can be challenging not seeing loved ones during a difficult time in their lives. We just support and explain the current climate and they do understand. We make sure they can have phone/ video contact when they need to. They are taking part in the meetings on their phones or tablets. Some take to it regularly, some not so well, but no more than regular meetings. People will always fight against meetings in early recovery so no different here!

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of lockdown so far?

Keeping an eye on our own health I think. And trying to balance health with wealth! If I have time off how do I pay bills if on sick pay only? I had to have a couple of weeks off as I was worried about my health as I have asthma. Now we can get furloughed so its not as big a worry if I become ill. I have now used a home test kit for the virus and hope we are a bit safer in the management of the illness.

Has there been a silver lining of lockdown? What joys/ blessings/ lessons have you and the clients experienced?

We have all been up for the challenge. We have spent a lot more 1 on 1 time with clients and the whole virus situation has brought us together as a team.

1 on 1 time is spent carefully! The facility is quite cosy. We have a lounge and outside smoking area (I don’t smoke) and we just spend the day with clients as they live their rehab lives. Sometimes we chat in the office or in a therapy room.

Pete connects to NA meetings via zoom

How are you being supported? How are you looking after yourself and your recovery?

I continue to take part in online NA meetings and help with service in the function of those meetings. I don’t mind them. When the lockdown happened and our NA meetings stopped at the church, we very quickly jumped online and adapted really well. A blessing of all this is we are connecting all over the world and are connecting with each other a lot more. I really pray we continue with this unity when its ‘business as usual’!

I also continue with my step work and connect with my sponsor and friends almost daily. Work supports with our recovery and understands when we must take time to get well.

What have you learned about yourself throughout this experience? 

I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with myself. I have a meditation program in my life which I lacked before. Spending time alone and with myself and my feelings has always been a challenge and I can now do this more comfortably without it slipping into isolation, an addicts biggest contention! I’ve also learned I can deal with any situation and still not use! Its been a massive challenge for all of us.

What are you looking forward to most after this all ends?

Getting together with friends and get to a meeting! To travel to outside meetings as the lockdown is connecting us far and wide. To visit my family in Shropshire. To finally go to Croatia which has been postponed!

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With corona virus shutting down AA meetings all over the world came a very real, very tangible fear. A fear I felt in my soul and which brought me to tears. It’s been said that the opposite of addiction is connection, and so without that in-person connection, how would millions of addicts survive in the absence of face-to-face meetings?

aa meetings covid 19

I spoke to Del, an addict in recovery who lives and volunteers in a 17 bed ‘halfway’ house with a high demand and a high turnover. The organisation provides supported housing for those in recovery needing a stepping stone to the next part of their journey.

Del would probably disagree with me, but I see him as a shining beacon of light and hope amidst this current climate. His collaborative efforts with housemates have ensured continuous sobriety for all of them – an undeniably miraculous and joyous achievement in these challenging times. I believe him to be the glue, and personally applaud his ability to generate such a strong sense of community and connection within his house.

Derek Evans – an unsung hero during Covid 19 in my eyes

Could you explain what your normal role is and what it involves?

I volunteer my time here 2 days a week. Generally this involves helping or giving new arrivals  a basic induction. No phone, or going out alone in the first week. I also try to work in, or rather suggest, the importance of NA/AA meetings. I also really like to cook communal meals, sit at the table and eat & laugh, get to know the people I live with.

What did a normal day look like in supported housing, before the pandemic?

Generally, aside from group sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 09:30-10:30 and accompanying one another to meetings, in pairs or groups, we all tended to do our own thing. We would have occasional communal movie nights, but really everyone tended to utilise the house wi-fi & watch Netflix, YouTube etc in their rooms.

How has this been affected by lockdown? What changes have there been in terms of staffing, your role and daily structure?   

Lockdown has been challenging in many areas. Firstly in staffing, as in there hasn’t been any, outside of dropping off FairShare food from Asda and Tesco, which is collected at the front door. We have a number of people here with COPD and heart conditions who have to be vigilant around potential exposure to Covid 19.

As I mentioned previously, I live here, so don’t really have a role (other than the semi affectionate Grandad of the house…for fucks sake) other than trying to be a part of, help, and be of service.

Daily structure is radically different now, we spend a lot more time together. We are very fortunate, as there are 10 of us, we have a meeting every day – 2 x AA & 5 x NA a week. Monday is NA step meeting, Tuesday a reading from AA big book, Wednesday is NA Traditions, Thursday is AA big book. Friday we have a main share from one of the housemates, Saturday is NA Living Clean and Sunday we have an ‘ask it basket’ meeting.

The main result of this situation is hardly any of us are doing Zoom meetings. I only do the 3 meetings I have service positions at. I must add though, it is a lovely, beautiful thing to see the faces and hear the voices of fellowship friends on the zoom meetings. It’s almost like I hadn’t realised how much I was missing them, until I saw their faces and heard their voices.

aa meeting covid 19

What have you found to be the biggest challenges of lockdown so far?

For me personally one of the biggest challenges is other people’s behaviour in lockdown, whinging, self-pity, selfishness and self-obsession, not to mention thoughtlessness and crass stupidity bordering on ignorance. Just not being able to go out (admittedly we all abuse the daily hour outside guideline, I have to, at least, for my own sanity) and get to meetings or see friends and family is also very difficult for all of us.

Has there been a silver lining of lockdown? What joys/ blessings/ lessons have you and the residents experienced?

There has. We have all gradually become accustomed to this new way of being, a slower and more relaxed daily routine. We are all more active and interested in each other, we sit around communally and chat, or play Scrabble in the evening, and watch Netflix together.

A definite joy is the interest and passion and skill in cooking which has been rekindled for me personally – I’d forgotten how much pleasure I get from thinking about, preparing and providing communal meals for family and friends. It’s something I haven’t done for at least 15 years. 

del 3

Del cooks for his housemates

Again for me personally the daily hour(s) often on my own, (sometimes with my Sister Gaynor) in Newsham Park. A joy/blessing from this, which has evolved over the weeks has been a reflective and very therapeutic thing for me. A realisation really, that though I thought and described myself as being a devout atheist for the majority of my adult life in and out of active addiction.  When I am in my local park, Bible verses come to mind which reflect my mind-set at the time. Verses I didn’t realise I knew, or had even read. Very bizarre I guess, but beautiful, miraculous and amazing to me.

How are you being supported? How are you looking after yourself and your recovery? 

Essentially we are all supporting each other in the house. Interestingly, I’ve heard of other supported housing where the story has been very different. Their routine prior to lockdown has not been maintained, as we have here, so there has been no group meetings, no Fellowship meetings in-house organised. The result of this has been multiple relapses and discharges.

Another aspect of being on lockdown has been a funny one for me, as I am not really a phone person. Usually I respond to texts, or return phone calls, but very seldom initiated them pre-lockdown. This has changed over the past weeks, and am now much more pro-active in this regard. Am still doing step work(always reluctantly, that stack of dishes, or pile of dirty washing must be done before I can pick up my pen) Speak to my sponsor regular(ish) In terms of utilising my time, have also started to learn Bengal/ Punjabi  with a lady friend from Amritsar (2-2.5 hours most days, she says I am Tumi pagala chagala…You are crazy old goat!! )                                                                  

What have you learned about yourself throughout this experience? 

In truth, the main thing is that I am more capable than I thought, or rather believed myself to be. I understand much more now, that following my relapse last year after 3.5 years clean, that time wasn’t lost. Additionally, on reflection, I believe my relapse and the long struggle to get back, has stood me in good stead during this lockdown period. I can suffer from unrealistic, and high expectations on myself and others. But today my attitudes have mellowed or softened, especially around myself. Reminding me to be gentle, not set the bar too high. I am doing better than I can sometimes believe I am.  

Obviously from the delay in completing this little task and returning it to you, I’m a procrastinator, I have had ample time on my hands, but, hey ho.

What are you looking forward to most after this all ends?

Not meetings, but bizarrely, it’s visiting a new food place in town. It should have opened on 20 March but got cancelled for obvious reasons. It’s called Shebang, and the blurb is: “Indian street food – from Mumbai to Merseyside”. Really can’t wait to take some of my housemates for a taster.

That aside, just looking forward to things getting back to how they were, although something tells me, we have all had a taste of something different in this lockdown, whether the appreciation of the little things, such as being able to hear birdsong without the traffic noise. Or having the time to sit and engage with friends. Do we really want to go back to noise, pollution and the general hectic-ness and strife of the modern world. Probably yes.