Posted on Leave a comment

UNSUNG HEROES OF COVID-19 | LGBT & ADDICTION SUPPORT

With the temporary closure of in-person meetings during lockdown, all addiction recovery groups have been forced to migrate online. Zoom meetings are now the ‘new normal’, with AA meetings, support groups and counselling all taking place in this format.

I questioned how ‘behind-the-screen’ connection could possibly be an adequate substitute for the real thing, but from my own experience and witnessing that of others, I have been reassured that my doubts were largely and surprisingly unfounded.

The adaptability and resilience of addicts in recovery consistently leaves me awe-struck and deeply, deeply inspired. Their ability to lean into uncertainty and dive into new territory with so much strength and grace always amazes me, and I wanted to celebrate these wondrous cape-less heroes. 

I spoke to Simon, a Dramatherapist, drug & alcohol counsellor, and  LGBT meeting facilitator, who in 3 months time will celebrate 13 miraculous years of sobriety. His capacity to meet a situation that looked like it might defeat us and transform it into an opportunity for more growth and healing is truly inspirational.

Simon – an unsung hero of Covid-19 – doing extraordinary things for the recovery community

You describe yourself as a Drama Therapist. Drug and alcohol counsellor. LGBT meeting facilitator. Please could you tell us about what these involve.

Dramatherapy is a form of  psychotherapy. It powerfully fuses the therapeutic process with the creative arts, in order to help heal inner wounds and trauma. Many of these wounds may have developed in childhood, and so the practice also involves working with and healing the inner-child.

Dramatherapy works differently from traditional talk therapy by bypassing the cognitive and analytical thought processes, instead connecting directly to the unconscious, where hidden aspects and ’shadow’ parts remain obscured. Working with stories, myths, the body, character and play, these parts can be projected, explored, expressed and re-integrated to help the reparent the whole self. I work both individually with clients, and with groups.

As a dramatherapist who specialises in addiction and  LGBT mental health,  my work is specifically focused on helping these two minority groups find recovery of their wounded-parts, to help overcome their ‘inner-demons’.  

As well my work as a dramatherapist,  I also work in a rehab as an addiction counsellor and talk therapist, and also facilitate a gay men’s discussion group called A Change Of Scene – as well as facilitate a private gay men’s talk therapy group. Most of my individual and group work has been moved on to Zoom during Covid-19.  

Simon’s weekly group therapy sessions are now running on Zoom

What did a normal work day look like for you, before the pandemic? 

A day was split both between my private practice, and my work in rehab – both of which I love very much.  Usually, it meant lots of travelling to and from South London to where the rehab is based  – to Central London where my private practice is. It’s usually a very full week! And then in between that, there were regular meetings for my own recovery at the Soho Recovery Centre.  I live pretty centrally between these places, so by the time I got home, I had dinner and went straight to bed!

The Soho Recovery Centre – a dedicated space in the heart of London for 12-Step recovery meetings, temporarily closed due to Covid-19.

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

A few weeks into lockdown I was furloughed from my rehab. Understandably, the daily working practices there changed, with no new residential in patients or day/ clients being taken in.

I’ve been very fortunate that my private work has continued, and moved on line.  Actually,  I’ve had more enquiries from new clients during lockdown.  I think that’s because people’s mental health has obviously been affected by this whole process.   Obviously I’ve had to make sure I look after my own mental health and recovery too.  I continue to do meetings online myself, as well as attend various workshops,  meditations and yoga – all on zoom – which have really helped keep me grounded.

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

I think the isolation.  For both LGBT people, and recovering addicts, isolation and anxiety can often seem like a normal part of life.  There is a often true desire to connect, but perhaps a fear of intimacy for so many of us – with many experiencing rising levels of anxiety.  Really I think this is what addiction is,  an escape or  attempt  to cover-up and numb very painful feelings and anxiety we may have about ourselves, and our difficulty in connecting to others.  

Often addicts and many LGBT people are highly sensitive. I believe that’s what so many of us have in common –  our sensitivity, which can be a gift. But because our sensitive nature also be experienced as intensely overwhelming, we might use alcohol, drugs,  shopping, food, sugar, sex, work, codependency, relationships – or  whatever else it may be for you – to escape it.  

In recovery and the therapeutic process, the limbic brain needs to be around others – especially like minded souls. We crave it, and may not even realise it. This is why group therapy, and fellowships in recovery, tend to work so well. They allow the limbic brain, which may have been traumatised, the chance to heal by connecting with others. It is the nature of the ‘herd instinct’ in all mammals. We were not intended to be alone.

Of course in lockdown, where imposed  isolation has been enforced, it can be devastating for people in recovery (as well as anyone else trying to improve their mental health to stay connected). Loneliness, fear, grief, loss, depression. They are experienced by sensitive people at alarmingly high levels. 

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

Yes absolutely.  Some have talked about feeling like they have been in their own private rehab!  It’s been a unique chance to be with their feelings, without the usual distractions and business of life. By staying connected to online meetings, recovery and therapy, many have gone through huge shifts and transformations in their lives over the last few months. Generally, I think it has given people a real opportunity to slow down and take stock of their lives.  

I have been witness to many people finding their way in to recovery or being able to ask for help and support for the first time.  I was very grateful, as were others, when recovery fellowships began appearing so fast on Zoom. For those in and seeking recovery, it has meant the difference between sobriety and relapse – literally life and death during this time.
 

Obviously lots of people will have been affected by Covid – physically, emotionally and financially. And devastatingly, many have lost loved ones.  I can’t begin to imagine what this must be like.  I’m always very mindful of this process of gain for some, and loss for others.

I think there’s been a collective grieving process going on. The loss of life, culture, routine, society, commerce, economic structure and so on. As we come out of lockdown, there’ll be another process to come as we try to re-intergrate back to life and a new kind of acceptance. But there may be denial, anger, bargaining and depression to work through too. 

persons-hands-doing-high-five-3693919

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

For me, I think getting the balance right between my own recovery, and being able to support other people is vital. As quite a busy person professionally, it’s been wonderful for me to slow down and be with myself more.

Like many people, I have missed being around people I love –  friends, family and my home group meetings especially. I have been attending recovery meetings online which has really worked for me.

Also – just after lockdown began I got the app Disney+.  That was a real gift for my inner child!  I must have literally gone through the entire Disney back catalogue from Snow White to Inside Out!

What have you learned about yourself throughout this experience?  

That my own inner-child needs more time to play. I’ve realised that he really loves – and is quite good at – jigsaw puzzles! 

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

Being able to hug my friends and family. Friday night curry after work. Scented candles from Muji. Coffee in Old Compton Street watching the world go by. And a night out at the movies. 

Simon facilitates a weekly gay men’s discussion group called A Change Of Scene, now on Zoom

For more info you can contact Simon at simon.marks@thepractice.org.uk or find out more about his work at  www.thepractice.org.uk