Being Of Service in the Age of Corona

What does early recovery, and working with others look like in The Age of Corona, or during these difficult times, and/or these trying times?

Being at home for three months straight, while only leaving my house twice a week, to drive to the new social mecca, the supermarket, and limiting myself to seeing one friend, once a week (it’s the new friends with benefits,  the benefit being human contact), means I’ve been watching a lot of television. There, I’m hearing a lot of Covid-19 buzz phrases being thrown around faster than misinformation, so basically, I’m just getting tired of the concern for my well-being from businesses. Just for today, I’m trying to avoid all of those “empathetic” terms, because they are overused to sell fast food and other products—as in, “At Burger King, during these difficult times,  we understand your need to be safe but, our business if the most important thing, so, please, buy our burgers.”  Being in recovery, it actually is a difficult time to be and stay sober, especially if one is new. Hopefully, your recovery is strong enough, with the tools you’ve learned to help keep yourself sober. I am certainly using mine now to me get through being home alone and getting annoyed by corona-terminology on television. Any of these sentiments may be enough to cause a relapse, so how can we all continue to keep going strong for a day at a time. It is important to use and adapt to the tools that you already know. One of these tools is helping other people.

Why is helping other people in recovery important? First of all, it gets you out of your head when such things as not getting a haircut, or earning money, may cause major resentments which lead to unsafe behavior. Helping others can fix that. Why? When helping others through the recovery process, the canned phrase, “it’s not just helping you, it’s helping me,” is 100% accurate. It’s kind of like the reverse of the breakup phrase, “it’s not you, it’s me,” but more than that, it’s an absolute truth. When you take others through recovery as a sponsor, you are getting a refresher course, reminding yourself of the very process you used to help yourself. 

My first sponsor was a, “Did you go to a meeting?” guy. No matter what complaint I opened a conversation with, he would immediately ask that, and if I said, “no,” he would say, “go to a meeting, “If I said, “yes,” it would get us into an actual conversation, perhaps about how I resented something about that meeting—then the next thing I would hear would be, “go to another meeting.” Now we have Zoom meetings. I can tell someone, “Go to a Zoom meeting now, and call me in an hour.” On-line meetings happen throughout the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s like saying, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” but usually they’re not saying it about recovery. If my friend calls back with a resentment afterward, a good one, such as, “no one knew how to mute or unmute themselves,”  I can advise him to go to another one, immediately. Yes there are some hearty mavericks, and those who need to feel on the cutting edge in their recovery, by still going to the few face-to-face meetings which exist, and refuse to shut down. However, Zoom meetings are a good substitute to the old, pre-2020, face-to-face meetings.

Besides working as an on-call person for someone who is struggling, the most important part for me, in helping another addict, or alcoholic, stay sober, are weekly face-to-face meetings where we do important recovery work. Since, now, as noted, I am only allowing myself to leave my house twice a week, this involves meeting facetime-to-facetime or using another video platform. It’s important to do it this way, so as you can see facial expressions, and someone’s body language on camera, in order to notice struggles, when someone is bullshitting you, or any other visual cue you may note. Meeting this way is not as effective as meeting someone face-to-face for a few reasons. One of them is that I find being one-on-one, on-camera with only one other person feels more intimate than it actually is, yet at the same time feels more distant.  Not that a sponsor-sponsee relationship isn’t intimate in many ways,  but being on camera before all this isolation, had only in many cases, used to be reserved for close family, and friends or loved ones.  It feels very much different than going to someone’s home and hanging out with them, as you work with them.

Also using camera applications while working on recovery, can be extremely distracting. Seeing two big heads on a screen, yours included, is a very unnatural feeling.  Also, there has been more than one time when I’ve been reading material out loud, that I’ve caught my sponsee on his cell. This would never happen when we were in the same physical space, but it seems much more easily done now, and if it did happen in an actual room, a reminder to stop usually was all it took to cease that activity and hear an apology. Also, during the large group Zoom meetings, it’s easy to tune out or to tune into something else. You can mute your mic, turn off your camera so you can cook, listen to music, or do whatever the hell you want. Christ you can attend a meeting in the bathroom if you want. You can also be distracted by those who do not mute or turn off their camera. What are they eating? What is hanging on the walls of their homes? Hang on, I see someone doing yoga! Basically, this is not good recovery, on either end of it, but that’s pretty obvious.

 Currently, I’ve not taken on a new sponsee since March, so I’ve not had to say in the initial contracting meeting (which I like to do face-to-face), “You need to tune in, and not tune out, because if you are not ‘all-in’, I cannot sponsor you.”  It would be similar to me accepting a new person to work with, then telling them to not call me, or meet with me, and directing them to some great podcasts to listen to instead. If only it were that easy. The baseline is if you are willing to do whatever it takes to get sober than I am willing to help you, especially when now, whatever it takes, is even greater. 

There is also a difference in “the fellowship,” which also is now changed. When I first got sober, and was in fear of joining a possible “cult,” and I heard the word fellowship, all I could think of was monks sitting around in robes asking you to try on a robe of your own. Soon, I experienced that this was not the case, especially the cult part. For me, in early sobriety, the fellowship became a wolfpack that I ran with, and I was now no longer a lone wolf. This group of men, and I, would hang out before and after every meeting. They were trusted people, who are now friends in a new world where I either didn’t have any friends left or the few I had were as stuck in their disease as I had been a few months ago. My wolfpack would go to breakfast together, be available to hang out, and even drop everything to come over when shit got rough. Often it was a call or text every day to help us through early sobriety.  We supported one another because we were all doing this together. We had a lot in common with each other in recovery, even if we didn’t have a lot in common with each other in anything else.

Without the wolfpack, I don’t know how I could have done it. The fact is, I don’t know what I would do now if I were newly sober without that aspect of the fellowship. Phone calls are good, but it doesn’t replace real-life—and certainly getting out of your house for coffee, a meal, or even bowling isn’t something we can do on video very well.  Using, drinking, and isolation was always a bad side effect of my problem, and now society is encouraging isolation for the good of all. Ironically, for those without this disease, on-camera drinking is very encouraged—even as early as mid-morning, but that’s an aspect of society I can no longer participate in safely. 

All I can recommend is that when, and if, we can get back to normal, participating within fellowship is a great place to start, and then using the rest of any program of recovery is the very next step. If you can get through this Age of Corona, these difficult times, or these trying times the ability to stay sober in that world, should be so much easier, as then your toolbox can by twice its current size.  As in the pre-March 2020 world, the personal relationships you can have, will have more of a chance to be real, honest, and hardly like the dysfunctional, harmful ones we held dear in our past. Good things happen, either virtually or in the outside world if we are always willing, always have gratitude, and know where to look when those two things start to wane. I’ve heard often that we didn’t stop ourselves from drowning in order to die on the beach. Today it’s slightly different, as the beach not as safe, the ocean more difficult to swim, but either way, to be willing to do whatever it takes in order to stay alive, is exactly the same thing.