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Social Recovery in the Times of COVID-19

Chris Marshall gives tips and tricks on how people in recovery can stay connected while in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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The phrase social distancing was not a term that many of us were familiar with until much of the country began to go into lockdown in early March.

All at once, it seemed plans for weddings, parties, and festivals were at first postponed, then canceled altogether. For those in recovery, this meant that 12 step meetings migrated to Zoom, and opportunities to connect with each other were reduced to phone calls and Google hangouts. Event organizers in the recovery community say that they initially struggled with how to best coalesce their groups which had previously relied on in real-life experiences to form healthy relationships.

Peter Grayson, Executive Director of BigVision, an NYC based nonprofit that produces community events for young adults, said that his organization had to rapidly shift to the virtual space to address the real isolation so many were feeling earlier this year. “We did a complete pivot on March 17th to have our entire schedule go virtual and all events moved to Zoom or IG Live. (Since then) We’ve done trivia, yoga, a dance party, and a Tuesday Talks interview series.” Said Greyson.

Another organization that had to quickly adapt to the social gathering in the midst of the pandemic was Chicago Queer Sober Social. Prior to Covid-19, the group of more than 100 individuals was meeting monthly at in-person events for anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community who has or is actively questioning their relationship with alcohol. Recognizing the need for increased connection, Chicago Queer Sober Social began hosting weekly virtual meetings in April to create an opportunity for their members to find more support to process thoughts and feelings during the pandemic.

“Holding our events online has allowed us to connect with individuals who are outside of the Chicagoland area, which has been an amazing bonus. Although, we are grateful to be able to facilitate virtual connections at a more frequent rate right now, forming in-depth relationships through a screen doesn’t entirely have the same level of depth that can be achieved by having one-on-one conversations in person.” Said Chicago Queer Sober Social co-leader Carly Novoselsky.

Forming in-depth relationships through a screen doesn’t entirely have the same level of depth that can be achieved by having one-on-one conversations in person.

Khadi A., founder and creator of Sober Black Girls Club (SBGC), a group for Black woman (of Afro/African descent), notes that her organization has used this period of quarantine to both offer support for their members and to raise awareness around Black social justice. To commemorate Dry July, SBGC launched its social media campaign Go Dry for Breonna Taylor. Taylor was a Black woman who was killed by law enforcement officers on March 13th while sleeping in her home. Members were encouraged to contribute time and money normally spent on alcohol use towards advocating for Taylor’s justice. SBGC sent members a daily newsletter which included inspiration, motivation, mocktail recipes, and actionable items to honor the life of Taylor.

As parts of the US begin to open up, some groups are noticing a decline in virtual event attendees, but are still offering social opportunities to those who are still practicing social distancing. Khadi A. attributes some of the reduced numbers to screen burnout and some people spending more time enjoying summer activities. She said, “Folks are tired of zoom events and I don’t blame them. We all would like to be at the beach or a bbq. The number of individuals attending our social events via Zoom has decreased, but I am happy and proud to say that the number of folks who attend our Thursday Support Group continues to increase.”

Folks are tired of zoom events and I don’t blame them. We all would like to be at the beach or a bbq.

While each of these expert event organizers has had different experiences in shifting to virtual offerings, they all agree that staying connected with others during this season of uncertainty is essential. How do we stay in touch while avoiding Zoom burnout? How do we create healthy boundaries for in-person hangouts as some parts of the country are reopening?

Here are 8 tips for people in recovery to stay connected while in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Moderate your screen social time.

This may sound a bit of a contradiction, but schedule 1-2 hours a week for meaningful connection with friends and family. This gives you something to look forward to in your schedule and helps avoid screen burnout, which is absolutely possible right now.

Think beyond Zoom.

The word Zoom now conjures up images of exhausting webinars and hours of team meetings. A change in platform can change your approach to a virtual happy hour with a friend, especially since seeing someone does keep from other distractions at home drawing away your attention.

Be flexible.

It may be helpful to recognize that some people are working from home or may have other obligations that require a last-minute cancellation or cause delays. Be it personal or professional, now is a great time to assume positive intent and give each other some slack and benefit of the doubt. It’s a great time in the world to give grace to one another.

Just say no.

No is a complete sentence. It is ok if you feel anxious about reconnecting with friends or attending a socially distanced gathering. It may not feel like it, but there will be future opportunities to connect with others. Honor the part of yourself that is still healing from the trauma of living through a global tragedy. If you aren’t feeling up to connecting with someone you don’t need an excuse.

Find moments of joy.

You don’t have to wait for a formal invitation or a calendar reminder to create an opportunity to practice some genuine celebration and fun. Even small accomplishments are worthy of a zoom dance party in your living room or a home-baked cake. Get creative, and give yourself permission to your own happiness.

Spice up your life.

Another way you can break away from the usual quarantine routine is by making a fun mocktail! A fizzy drink can be your new lunchtime or after work treat. Even adding some fresh mint and cucumber into seltzer water can melt away that Groundhog Day vibe. Add a little sweetness to your next IRL or virtual meet up by challenging your friends to a sober drink contest to see how can come up with the most creative concoction.

Create boundaries.

If you’re invited to hang out with recovery friends in-person, make sure each of your expectations on safety measures and plans is aligned. If there are differences, feel free to say no with love and offer terms that feel safe for you. Remember, setting a boundary will never fracture a real connection. Taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health is important now more than ever.

Feed all the parts of you.

Have a dance party (solo, with your roomies, or over zoom), join a book club, try a Netflix watch party, watch something sad, watch a documentary, start a conversation about social justice with a friend, register your vote, find a new podcast, take a masterclass, make sure you laugh!

In recovery, we are gifted with the freedom to try new things and to nurture every aspect of ourselves.

Chris Marshall is the founder of Sans Bar, which offers safe, sober, and inclusive social experiences. San Bar was founded in Austin, TX, and has since expanded to pop-ups in cities around the country.

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