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?
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.
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 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.