For the last nine months, Korey, a 28-year-old in Oregon, has been going to at least four 12-step meetings per week. In addition to those one-hour meetings, she’s been attending three outpatient recovery meetings per week, each three hours long. Weekly in-person support from other people in recovery is how Korey has managed to address her alcohol addiction and stay sober for the longest period of time since her late teens. Last week, she received a call that her outpatient recovery program — like her other recovery support groups — was shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s nine hours of recovery a week…gone,” Korey told me. When you factor in the 12-step meetings she’d usually be going to, that number climbs to 13 hours. A lack of connection is often what fuels people’s use of alcohol and other drugs, so it makes sense that for many, the connection to others in recovery is a big part of the solution. With much of the world, including Oregon, under orders to quarantine or shelter in place, she and others in recovery have had to find remote ways of maintaining a connection to their support groups.
For John, a 49-year-old recovering drug user in New Mexico who is 96 days sober, 12-step meetings make him feel supported and understood in ways nothing else can. A poet who often performs or gives lectures at universities, he said, “Try to imagine someone coming up to me after a reading and asking me how I am. Can you imagine me saying ‘Well, you know, this morning I really wanted to go buy a bag of dope, but instead I just watched porn for an hour’? It breaks all the norms of social interaction. People have a barrier of shame about what they will and won’t talk about.” At a meeting, however, John said, “Those rules don’t apply. You can talk about anything, and people will nod their head from across the room and go, ‘Yeah, yeah, I can totally understand that.’”
When people in recovery are isolated and don’t have that connection to other people in recovery, Korey said, “The denial kicks in.” Alone, Korey said, she’s likely to minimize, rationalize, and blame others for her addiction. “You start to feel like the whole world is fine and you’re the only one with a problem. And then the self-pity and all these other negative emotions follow, and it just becomes too heavy.” Meetings, she told me, “hold a mirror” up to help her see what’s real and what’s denial. (continued)