Being Of Service in the Age of Corona

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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?

I’ve been at home for three months straight. I only leave my house twice a week to drive to the new social mecca, the supermarket.  This plus 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 hear a lot of Covid-19 buzz phrases being thrown around even faster than misinformation. So basically, I’m getting tired of the concern for my well-being from businesses. Just for today, I’m trying to avoid all of those “empathetic” terms that are overused to sell fast food and other products. For example, “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.” 

Helping others in recovery.

This actually is a difficult time to be and stay sober in recovery, 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 to help 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. This matters when things like not getting a haircut or earning money could cause major resentments that lead to unsafe behavior. Helping others can fix that. Why? In 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 get a refresher course, reminding yourself of the very process you used to help yourself. 

Getting to meetings.

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. If I said, “no,” he would say, “go to a meeting.” If I said, “yes,” it would get us into an actual conversation. Perhaps we would talk 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,” except that phrase usually isn’t 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.

Working one-on-one.

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, is weekly face-to-face meetings. We do important recovery work there. 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 you can see facial expressions and body language on camera. This lets you notice struggles, when someone is bullshitting you, or other visual cues you may note. Meeting this way is not as effective for me as meeting someone face-to-face. One reason 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 before all this isolation, being on camera had in many cases been reserved for close family, friends, or loved ones.  It feels very much different than going to someone’s home and hanging out as you work with them.

The struggle with distraction.

Using camera applications while working on recovery can also be distracting. Seeing two big heads on a screen, yours included, sometimes seems unnatural.  And on more than one occasion, I’ve been reading material out loud and caught my sponsee on his cell. This would never happen when we were in the same physical space. 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. But it seems much more common now, when we’re working online. 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! This kind lack of attention is not good recovery on either end, but that’s pretty obvious.

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! If you are willing to do whatever it takes to get sober, then I am willing to help you. Especially because now “whatever it takes” is even greater. 

Missing the fellowship.

“The fellowship” has also is now changed. When I first got sober, I was afraid of joining a cult. When I heard the word fellowship, I pictured monks in robes asking me to try on a robe of my own. Soon, I experienced that this was not the case, especially the cult part. In early sobriety, the fellowship became a wolfpack that I ran with, and I was no longer a lone wolf. This group of men and I would hang out before and after every meeting. They were trusted people who became friends in a new world where I had few friends left, and 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 we would 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 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 if I were newly sober now, without that aspect of the fellowship. Phone calls are good, but it doesn’t replace in-person interaction. And getting out of your house for coffee, a meal, or even bowling isn’t easy to do on video. Using, drinking, and isolation were always bad side effects of my problem. 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. 

Looking forward.

When, and if, we can get back to normal, participating within fellowship is a great place to start. 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 staying sober should be so much easier, as then your toolbox will be 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. A far cry from the dysfunctional, harmful ones we held dear in our past.

Good things happen 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 and the ocean more difficult to swim. But being willing to do whatever it takes in order to stay alive is exactly the same thing. 


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Timothy Gager is the author of fifteen books of fiction and poetry. His latest, Spreading Like Wild Flowers,is his eighth of poetry. He has had over 600 works of fiction and poetry published, of which sixteen have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio, has also been nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award, The Best of the Web, and The Best Small Fictions Anthology.Timothy is the Fiction Editor of The Wilderness House Literary Review, and the founding co-editor of The Heat City Literary Review. A graduate of the University of Delaware, Timothy lives in Dedham, Massachusetts with some fish and two rabbits, and he is employed as a social worker. He is currently seeking representation for his third novel, Joe the Salamander, a semi-finalist for The Holland Prize.

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