I recently learned of a conversation a friend had with a 97-year-old woman. She had survived the Depression, World War II, the loss of two sons, 9/11 and more. She stated that through everything she experienced, there were three commonalities:
- They always got through it
- In the middle of it, they did not believe they could survive
- There was a sense of community – people supported each other
Throughout history, individuals coming together as a community have created the opportunity for survival. In this article, community is defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
In my book, Don’t Forget Me: A Lifeline of HOPE for Those Touched by Substance Abuse and Addiction, I wrote that we are literally, physiologically created for connection. Our limbic systems, mirror neurons, and the ability to learn socially are all wired to help us connect. That system is the heart of what is damaged in substance use disorders. As we begin to heal, we must do so in a social environment.
We need other people in our lives. We need other recovering people in our lives as well, not just for the advice and wisdom that they can share but also because of the profound understanding they have. Their knowledge can provide a sense of belonging, and their presence can help provide us with more stable emotions that we can use to better regulate our own.
It is imperative for all of us to feel a part of and be engaged with community. If a person spends even five hours a week using substances and they quit using them, they now have five hours a week that they have to figure out something else to do.
In early recovery, boredom is the enemy. The point of recovery is to recover what you once enjoyed in life. Say yes to what you enjoy doing so much that you lose track of time. Rediscovering old interests and discovering new ones can make a significant difference as we learn to restructure our lives for successful recovery.
Community during COVID-19
Being engaged with community has become a challenge during COVID-19 and physical distancing. Many find community at their job, with family, through activities and places of worship. Some of these communities are currently not available.
The ability to connect with others is essential. It is especially important to be in contact with those you know love and support you. Interacting with those that understand what you are going through is vital. It is also important to avoid triggers.
Now is an excellent time to reduce stress and build resilience. List ways that you can enhance your coping methods and refer to your list often, so you have a quick go-to when the pressure mounts. Items on your list may include having a list of people to call, reciting the serenity prayer, breathing techniques, physical exertion, household projects, and many more. See how long you can make your list and keep it handy so that you can add to it.
Many people feel isolated and lonely now. Perhaps this is a good time to reconnect with friends who are not using; often, these are friends that are no longer in touch. Online meetings for organizations such as AA and NA are readily available, and more individuals are reaching out to support each other via phone. A friend that has been a sponsor for many years is now receiving regular phone calls from those who have never called him before.
What can we do to build a community that helps those in recovery?
The more we can understand that addiction is a public health issue and not a character flaw or something addicts chose, the more compassionate and supportive we can be, and the better our community will be.
Be familiar with what support opportunities are currently available in your area. Encourage supportive employee assistance programs in our workplaces. Having a job provides something to look forward to that gives structure and enhances self-esteem. Beyond that, it can offer hope and optimism.
Educational community opportunities for high schools and colleges can provide additional support, and community centers can deliver a wide variety of activities. For example, one of our efforts at the Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Foundation was to collaborate with other organizations to build Chris and Kelly’s HOPE Fitness Park.
As Helen Keller said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”