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A Shift in Care

For people in recovery, the pandemic brought new dangers-but also bred resilience.

by Ella Bourland

Published in October, 2020

People who are in the early stages of their recovery from substance abuse disorder are advised to avoid stress and isolation as much as possible, says Dawn Farm communications director Olivia Vigiletti. Yet public safety restrictions have caused many people to feel more stressed and isolated than ever. Since March, many people in the recovery community have seen their traditional networks, daily structures, and habits disrupted.

Nationally, people are drinking 14 percent more during the pandemic. In Michigan, EMS is responding to 26 percent more opioid-related overdoses. And while there is no data on relapse rates, "two people I know have dealt with relapses during the pandemic," says Rits, a twenty-three-year-old Ann Arbor native who recently celebrated five years of sobriety.

The pandemic caused him to be furloughed by the Planet Rock climbing gym, where he sets climbing routes. "There was a pretty big shift initially in my structure," he says. He responded with distraction techniques: "Stay busy, making to-do lists, projects, anything that fills time and pushes me." He's also reconnected with the recovery community and had time to reflect on the realities of drug use in the local community. "Being a college town and constantly seeing overuse at tailgates from early childhood," he says, "how are kids supposed to form healthy habits when on one side they're seeing large binging happening on the weekends and on the other side there is an abstinence [from drugs and alcohol] rhetoric being pushed on them? It's just constant polarization."

Getting through day-to-day turned out to be the easy part for Rits. The struggle was maintaining hope. "During the pandemic and during a lot of the issues arising in America right now, it's hard to ... see a clear point in continuing with treatment, or continuing with sobriety, when sometimes it just feels like the world is ending."

Leah, twenty five, also grew up in Ann Arbor. She got sober in NYC, and moved back in

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with her parents and college-aged sister from March through September. Eleven months sober, she says she is "doing okay today." It helped that her twelve-step meetings swiftly shifted online. The same people that used to stay around after in-person meetings and ask for other's numbers were now saying, "Hey, I have a Zoom account, do you want to stay connected?"

Now, any hour of the day, any day of the week, she can power up her computer and log on to connect with people in recovery and hear their experiences. "There was a desperate need for people in the program to stay connected," she says. She can virtually attend her sister's meeting in Chicago, and even see what the program looks like in other parts of the world.

To stay active in a virtual world and keep her support systems intact, Leah had to tweak her toolbox. She embraced the importance of phone chats, both with old friends and she's met online. "Recovery is a really rocky and painful thing for a lot of people, including myself, and there have been times when the isolation has been really easy to fall into," she says. "But the beauty of the [twelve-step] program is the people." Now, she says, when she's in a bad place, her phone will ring and it will be someone from the program.

Leah and Rits not only adapted to new ways of life, but found a sense of resilience and solidarity that they may not have discovered in normal times. "Because of how the pandemic has shut everything down," Rits says, "it's almost kind of like creating a blank slate that a lot of change can happen during this period. That keeps a lot of my hope going that there can be change for the better."

There is help available.

National Suicicde Hotline - (800) 273-8255

Dawn Farm addiction treatment center - (734) 669-8265

New Oakland Family Centers - (734) 669-3610     (end of article)

[Originally published in October, 2020.]


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