DISCLAIMER — Current and recovering alcoholics mentioned in the article go by their first name and last initial.
IDAHO FALLS — Some recovering alcoholics are struggling even more due to the isolation prompted by COVID-19.
Jeff S. has been in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous for about 45 years. He says some recovering addicts are struggling because face-to-face meetings and events have been canceled, although some groups are now meeting online.
AA is a group open to anyone who wants to do something about their drinking problem. One of its 12 Traditions states, “Personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.”
“When you don’t have that structure of the meetings and stuff, then you’re more apt to relapse,” he said.
One of the first things taught in recovery is how to overcome isolation, he said.
Robert Stahn is the owner of Well Spring Counseling in Idaho Falls and a mental health and master addictions counselor. He said one of the things that addicts do when they’re struggling with addiction is isolate themselves and withdraw from those around them.
“When we have a forced isolation, that could contribute to those relapses because when we are by ourselves, we don’t have as much support typically, as when we’re around others,” he said.
But staying home doesn’t have to mean being disconnected.
“I think that people are confusing social distancing with physical distancing. Those are two very different things. As an individual in the recovery community, I need connections. It’s important for our mental health and our recovery,” recovering alcoholic addict Clellie L. told EastIdahoNews.com. “We will have to figure out a way to adapt to these changes, or a lot of people might go back out or commit suicide.”
Recovering alcoholic addict Benjamin P. said they learn in recovery that the pattern of relapse happens long before the actual physical action. He said isolation and distancing are part of those behaviors or types of actions.
“I think that right now, that was one of the biggest things that people that I work with in recovery were more afraid of, that some people weren’t going to be able to be reached, or some people didn’t feel like they needed to reach out when they needed the help,” he said. “It does make it more difficult having stuff like this go on with the community.”
On top of isolating, Gov. Brad Little deemed liquor stores “essential” while “nonessential” businesses were told to shut down for 21 days.
Kimi W., a single mom of two, waitress and student, said liquor stores being open during the pandemic is “evil.” She is just weeks sober from alcohol.
“I’m triggered more than ever right now. It’s really hard,” she said. “I had to let my parents know, and my little 8-year-old know what the liquor store is and to tell my mom and dad if I ever go there.”
Stahn said people do what they do in an effort to try to meet unmet needs, and unmet needs drive behavior.
“Just as if I were to know five languages and speak them fluently, when I thump my finger with a hammer, I will likely cry out in the first language that I learned because that language is my default language,” Stahn said. “I will likely revert to coping the way that I know first, or the way that I know best. And if alcohol is that way, then that’s how I will cope reflexively. If people are stressed, they go to their tried-and-true way of coping, and it may not be healthy, but it’s what they know best.”
Kimi W. said she tries to stay as busy as possible, but until further notice, she is out of work and school’s now online. She said she cries and sleeps a lot.
“I feel like this whole thing (COVID-19) is making it easier for the abusive parents and for the addicts that just drink at home anyways,” Kimi W. said. “How scary is that?”
Clellie L. said she doesn’t want the recovery community feeling alone during this time. The way to stay sober is by doing it together, she said.
“Reach out. Get ahold of someone. There’s all kinds of numbers. There’s all kinds of help out there,” Jeff S. said. “It’s more difficult with the isolation going on now, but the help is out there.”
Tips on making it through COVID-19 while battling addictions
From Jeff S., Benjamin P., Kimi W. and Stahn.
- Build a support network. Electronically connect to people via calls, texting or video chatting.
- Meet face to face, but keep 6 feet away from each other. Meet your friend somewhere, but both of you stay in your vehicles, roll windows down and keep your distance.
- Create a schedule or routine. Keep yourself busy.
- Find a hobby. Find something to do that’s worthwhile.
- Talk and be honest. Let people know what’s going on instead of going down the road you’re trying to get off.
- Review written information for support. Refer to books, A.A. literature or literature given to a person in their treatment facility or from a counselor.
- Create a “Love Me” book. This is a book that contains things you need to feel uplifted, such as written statements from people you admire, statements friends or family have made about you, scriptures or letters, and emails or texts from people commenting you on your characteristics. This can be made from a small spiral notebook, three-ring binder or on your phone.
- Put together a rescue box. It’s a small box that includes anything you could use to be comforted. Try to get all five senses involved by placing items such as something fuzzy to feel, soothing music to hear, favorite treat to taste, essential oils to smell and positive photographs to see.