HANCOCK COUNTY – Ro Evans, a recovering alcoholic, knows firsthand how harmful it can be to fight an addiction alone, as so many did during the pandemic.
Five months ago, the 41-year-old woman changed her life when she moved to the Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House in Greenfield.
Since then, she has benefited from the support and guidance of the team and other residents in installing nine beds, although external recovery meetings have been paralyzed for months due to the pandemic.
Although she has the daily support and camaraderie of the other residents of Talitha Koum’s house, which is currently full, she knows that not all recovering addicts are so lucky.
Recovery during a pandemic marked by uncertainty, anxiety and isolation has affected those in recovery, say those who have experienced it.
Kara Cole, manager of the Talitha Koum recovery center, also known as TK House, is also a recovering alcoholic.
She and other local sobriety coaches say the isolation, anxiety and uncertainty caused by the pandemic have had a challenging – and sometimes devastating – impact on those who are recovering from various addictions.
Zoom calls and other video communications helped, they say, but they are nowhere near as effective as a personal meeting.
“You still have a sense of isolation, even though you are seeing yourself online,” said Paul Galbraith, pastor who runs Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step faith-based recovery program at the Brandywine Church in Greenfield.
“We were created to relate to people. It is not the same if you are not physically present with them, ”he said.
Linda Ostewig, director of TK House and also The Landing Place, a meeting place for teenagers in crisis, said that COVID has taken a blow to the entire recovery lifestyle.
“Recovery is building a new life for you. It includes meetings, it includes interaction with people, interaction with sponsors, and COVID kind of kicked the butt, ”she said.
At TK House, Cole is grateful for the nine women who live there, but they still miss his outside meetings with other people.
“In my opinion, COVID made it worse,” said Cole, who has been sober for 12 years.
Sobriety on the scale
“For people who are addicted or have mental health problems, they cannot go out and interact. They can hold Zoom meetings, and I’m grateful for that, but people need that individual personal connection, ”she said.
Ostewig said it is this lack of connection that can lead addicts back to negative behavior.
“Once the face-to-face connection is eliminated, you are left with your own addictions, whatever those addictions are. Some can sail well and others cannot, ”she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pandemic has had a severe impact on people struggling with addiction.
According to a press release released in December, “More than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. .. Although overdose deaths were already increasing in the months prior to the (COVID-19 pandemic), the latest figures suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic. “
“The disruption of daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield. “As we continue to struggle to end this pandemic, it is important not to lose sight of the different groups that are being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people who suffer unwanted consequences, ”he said.
Ostewig said that several women who completed the Talitha Koum program suffered relapses last year, and several young people who were receiving support for recovery at The Landing Place have returned to use it as well.
A resident who spent three months at TK House during the pandemic chose to leave early and ended up overdosing and dying after about a month of living alone.
“This was our first death for someone who entered and left the house. It really rocked our world, ”said Cole.
The threat of relapse grows
The pandemic and its related stressors trigger not only a sense of isolation in recovering addicts, but also trigger the desire to return to the drug of their choice to alleviate the pain and uncertainty that the pandemic brings.
“Those in recovery have returned to what they knew, which is to use a substance that numbs the pain and takes away reality,” said Ostewig, adding that even those who are not in recovery can face similar pitfalls.
“There is a lot of data that shows that many people started drinking at home. Data show that alcohol sales have increased dramatically. People are isolating themselves, and that’s what they’re turning to, ”she said.
While TK House residents have each other to support, other recovering addicts are not so lucky. Sobriety coaches say it is tempting to relapse in the absence of ongoing personal support.
When schools and businesses closed in mid-March last year, churches and nonprofits were forced to stop face-to-face support meetings.
Although Ostewig said it broke his heart, The Landing Place closed and did not reopen until June 1. It was the first time that she had to close the doors of the nonprofit in six years.
The Landing was closed again when COVID cases increased in December and did not reopen until February 3. The closures have affected those who find refuge there, said Ostewig.
“Once the habit is formed, it needs to be reinforced. The more you stay closed, the more they forget about these good habits, ”she said. They don’t come to meetings, they’re not listening to that encouragement, and those old habits come back and maybe new bad habits will develop. “
Meetings on the Celebrate Recovery program were also suspended after COVID’s success last year. The organizers tried to hold online meetings during downtime, “but it was not the same. Participation was not as high as we received personally, ”said Galbraith.
The program resumed face-to-face meetings in late June, celebrating with an outdoor barbecue.
Even though meetings have resumed at home, Galbraith said participants take utmost care – social detachment, wearing masks and staying at home when they are sick.
“What has been really encouraging is the care that all participants have taken. We have had no known cases of the spread of COVID, ”he said.
It helps to have a large meeting space. Participants can spread out across the 800-seat auditorium and see parts of the program that take place on stage displayed on large screens.
After a large group meeting, many branch out into smaller groups of gender and specific topics in church classrooms.
“This was part of our desire to meet (in person) quickly. When talking to our leaders and participants, everyone expressed the need to be at the physical location together, ”he said.
Galbraith was encouraged to see the number of participants return to pre-COVID levels, which is around 100 participants per week, after dropping considerably last year, when meetings were being held virtually.
“Part of that was because people were not comfortable sharing their stories through a computer call. There was not so much confidentiality, ”he said.
When the Landing reopened in the first week of February, Ostewig was overjoyed to see that 25 to 30 people showed up every night. Previously, 40 to 50 people attended each meeting.
Although attendance has declined compared to pre-COVID numbers, Ostewig is thrilled to see people starting to come back to meet in his recovery.
In early February, TK House reopened its internal meeting on Tuesday night, called the Last Minute Meeting.
“People have come back to this. They are looking forward, ”said Cole, who hopes that residents will soon be able to start returning to other face-to-face meetings in the Indianapolis metropolitan area, as meetings resume.
“They love these meetings, so they are looking forward to it,” she said.
Changes in recovery meetings
Recovery group organizers say they are adhering to state guidelines for COVID security, such as wearing a mask and social detachment.
At The Way Out Club in Greenfield, a meeting place for those in recovery that is open daily and hosts more than 20 AA meetings a week, the voicemail greeting informs callers that meetings should not exceed 50% capacity the fire code. The recording states that participants should wear masks and practice social detachment, and those who are feeling ill should stay home.
As the world struggles to get back to normal, recovering addicts and sobriety coaches are doing their best to navigate the path.
Cole said that she and the women at TK House try to keep themselves busy, playing games, making crafts, going to the park and finding new dishes to cook.
“Isolation has made us diversify and be more creative, thinking about the kind of fun we can have in sobriety, which has been very useful for them,” said Cole.
As for Evans, she is grateful for the daily support and encouragement she receives from other recovering people – either in person or through a screen.
“I love going to face-to-face meetings, but Zoom has been a godsend for me. Anyway, the program is how I stay sober, ”she said.
HOW TO GET HELP
Here is a list of Hancock County dependency recovery features.
Brandywine Church, Greenfield
Contact: Paul Galbraith
317-462-4777 extension 113
Hancock Regional Hospital, Greenfield
Contact: Leah Reynolds
Talitha Koum Women’s Recovery House
Friends of Recovery, Inc.
The Way Out Club
226 Cherry St., Greenfield
Hancock Health’s Healthy365 Service System is a collaborative support system for young people and families who need help with mental health treatment and / or substance abuse. Here’s where to get more information:
On the web: www.behealthy365.org/about/system-of-care/