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UNSUNG HEROES OF COVID-19 | ONE RECOVERING ADDICT HELPING ANOTHER

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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