- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2020

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Can an abundance of peace and quiet be a bad thing, even in socially anxious times?

For people in recovery, the answer is a resounding “yes,” according to many in the recovery and treatment communities.

“It’s frustrating and scary,” Joe Sweet said of the current social distancing practices that have disrupted the services of the Recovery Rec Center in Crawfordsville.

Like many in the recovery community - which has become a worldwide network through the internet - Sweet said he has tried online meetings since the world began locking down in March to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“People just don’t seem to like it as much as face-to-face,” said Sweet, who has been in recovery for eight years. “It’s not as personal, and it’s not as confidential if the chat room is not closed.”



And for many people who regularly attend meetings in a treatment center, community space or church hall, having those familiar places closed due to the shutdown has been a jolt in their daily or weekly patterns.

It can be difficult to maintain sobriety when routine is uprooted, and an increase in relapses has been anticipated by those in the treatment field.

“It’s adding stress to their lives,” said Julia Wernz, a psychologist and director of behavioral health for Valley Professionals Community Health Center.

Many people in treatment and in recovery are dual-diagnosed with anxiety and addiction, Wernz said, so it can be harder for them to manage the current societal stress in addition to their own recovery.

“In times of war and economic stress, people are more likely to relapse,” Wernz said.

Support systems are essential. Group meetings - a standard of many recovery programs - are important to many people’s sustained recovery.

At Club Soda sober living community in Terre Haute, in-person meetings are still possible since those living in the building are often the folks who gather to share and support each other.

Program director Kevin Ball said those admitted to the residential program are practicing social distancing, but they know that staying connected to each other is essential to recovery.

Past residents of Club Soda are being encouraged to find a recovery forum online, and to stay in touch with their sponsors via phone and messaging.

Ball said since social distancing went into effect, no new residents have been accepted at Club Soda, and several have been released after completing the program, so the facility is currently at half capacity.

Many of the residents are missing their families, he said, especially those with children.

“Normally, children can come and visit, and we give passes so they can go visit their families,” Ball said. “But we’ve had to cancel all activities, like the Easter Egg Hunt, and with Mother’s Day coming up, it’s been tough.”

The residents understand the reason for the social distancing, he said, and none of them want to potentially expose their families or other residents to coronavirus.

As the stay-at-home order eases up, group meetings will be opened to non-residents, he said.

Vigo County’s Drug Court program relies on attendance at regular hearings to keep tabs on those in recovery.

Keith Rogers, drug court coordinator, said staying in touch with program participants has sometimes been a challenge, but many in the program are maintaining their regular check-ins and drug screens.

On Friday, Rogers was traveling to do in-person (but-at-a-distance) meetings with program participants.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Rogers said, the program was frantically and purposefully attempting to adapt through the challenges of the pandemic to best serve the community and program.

“In these past weeks we have become secure in the adaptation to do this,” Rogers said Friday. “We have conducted virtual status hearings, connected at least weekly virtually with all participants and performed home visits and screening using the highest measures of precaution.

“In this, I have seen the staff, team, and participants become more than a program, we have become a family. And like all families around the world, we have done the best we can to stay connected for support and encouragement during these challenging times and keep one another safe.”

Vigo County Community Corrections has also continued to offer drug screening and monitoring since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect at the end of March.

For those who require daily medication to help maintain their sobriety, the staff at WIN Recovery in Terre Haute have been following the guidelines of the state Department of Mental Health and Addictions.

“Here at WIN Recovery, our patients are concerned and seeking answers like everyone else during this time,” said D.J. Rhodes, chief of opioid treatment programs and health clinics for Hamilton Center.

“Some are seeking guidance on how to cope with the societal changes, we are all currently facing in this public health crisis, while others … (wonder) how to prepare for life after this pandemic. Other concerns include how COVID-19 will affect their treatment, including its impact on adherence and compliance, as well as policies regarding therapy requirements and clinic operations.”

Rhodes said the staff has been diligent in supporting patients, and sharing information has been an important part of the process.

One of the dangers of social distancing and isolation is that the days and weeks seem endless, and there is more temptation for those in recovery to return to the former crutches of alcohol and drugs to cope with boredom, solitude, fear and panic.

“This period of social distancing can play a part in bringing up past memories of isolation during the active addiction stage, which can be extremely tough to deal with, especially if recovering individuals are living alone,” said Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of American Addiction Centers.

“It is important to be able to distinguish between the isolation that is linked to active addiction - this is rooted in shame, sadness and the substance itself. In comparison, the isolation that may result from social distancing is a short-term interruption to our daily lives, which will ultimately benefit society in the long run.”

Soon after Indiana entered its pandemic slow-down protocols in late March and early April, the state’s addiction hotlines saw an increase in crisis calls from 20 calls a week to 20 calls per day, according to the state’s Family and Social Services Administration.

Online recovery forums also have seen an increase in attendance.

Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous (aa-intergroup.org) has video conferencing, phone conferencing, message boards, email lists, chat rooms and games to get people connected in recovery.

Narcotics Anonymous also has online meetings at virtual-an.org for those with a substance use issue.

Still, fellowship and face-to-face interactions are important for those in recovery, Recovery Rec Center’s Sweet said, and the online meetings that have become primary forums since the coronavirus pandemic takes accountability down to a two-dimensional format.

“On Facebook, you can look as good as you want for a minute, and then go back to doing what you’re not supposed to do,” Sweet said of the online forums. “In person, you can see body language and all the other things you miss otherwise, that tell the story more than what you say.”

Recovery Rec Center is a drug-free gathering place for playing pool or ping pong, grief counseling, parenting advice and other support, managed by those in recovery.

Sweet says he has been clean for the past three years as of March 1.

He entered recovery out of necessity, he said. His life was on the brink of being out of control, and his behavior was drawing attention at work.

He called a confidential support line offered by his employer, and he eventually entered rehab.

Learning to be concerned about others, rather than focused on himself, was the key to change, Sweet said, and it can take a long time for that reality to sink in. For many people, the in-person meetings are where that refocusing occurs.

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Source: Tribune-Star

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