Opportunity in Crisis
Are you feeling some stress these days? Maybe you’re worried about your family, or your finances, or your community, or the world at large? Maybe the combination of these things has you feeling a little on edge? Honestly, it would be surprising if you weren’t. Compounding stressors are more challenging than the sum of their parts. They can lead to degradation of mindset and worldview; it can feel much harder to feel hopeful. It can be harder to see beauty. Stress can, perhaps ironically, make it harder to access or process grief. It becomes easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed in a healthy way.
Given these truths, it is no surprise that situations with compounding stressors are the most consistent predictor of relapse for those of us in recovery. When life throws a lot at us at once, it can push us back towards old patterns or habits that we know will make us feel some relief, even if we know that relief to be temporary. For addicts, this is often substance abuse, but the trend is universal. Whatever the unhealthy coping mechanisms you have worked to grow beyond may be, it is likely that you will be more prone to ‘relapse’ into them as we face months of unemployment, quarantine, shortages, family stress, illness, and who knows what else?
The thing that is different for folks in recovery is that we usually have some experience with what is proven, time and time again, to be the most effective tool for addressing the possibility of falling back into old, unhealthy patterns. This can take many shapes and forms, but at it’s core, it holds universally true to all effective treatments and forms of recovery. The thing that keeps us clean and sober, the thing that stabilizes us in crisis, the thing that is the heart and core of recovery is this:
Supporting one another.
Read that again. And please remember, we regularly work with hardened prisoners and veterans: this isn’t some fluffy new-age meme; it’s how people heal and grow. This is the heart of both personal growth and systemic change. It’s how things change, and it’s the only way things change.
It is the ongoing work of mutual aid, in myriad iterations and structures, that is the backbone of the recovery community. From friendship to rehab, it’s all about mutual support. This is very well understood by those of us in recovery; its discussed all the time, and often foundational to how we live our lives. For those of us in 12-step programs, we find mentors (sponsors) who help us personally. This concept is universally applicable; if you want support around one particular type of growth, finding someone skilled and experienced who is willing to commit to supporting you personally and developing a close relationship of accountability and guidance with them is a brilliant way to hold to that growth.
Are there Elders who have the mental strength that you crave in these trying times? Could you, safely, foster a deeper relationship with them and ask to learn some of the resilience and wisdom that they have to offer?
If you are in a place of stability and strength mentally as we face these challenges, will you make yourself publicly available to personally commit to supporting individuals who are not?
For those of us in meditation-based recovery, the regular practice of sitting together in stillness is deeply grounding and re-affirming of the spiritual and mental mindset that keeps us stable and renders substance use unnecessary. There infinite expressions of mutual support, but it is that intention to support one another that underlies them all.
Are there communities of like-minded people with whom you might, safely, share a practice with these days, giving you some more organic accountability as you navigate these turbulent waters? What might it look like to foster those mutually grounding relationships and practices?
There are some unique challenges emerging in the recovery community these days. The first is that the current best practice of social distancing and quarantine shuts down all regular AA and NA groups. You may not know it, but many times a day in your community, groups of people gather in solidarity and support of their growth and healing around addiction. Many of these people are struggling very deeply with the sudden absence of that deep network of support at the moment.
Another is that the jails and prisons are expediting release of all people eligible for release in the coming months. Usually, people getting out of incarceration have support plans which often include housing, food stamps, medical care, treatment, therapy, and multiple other structures. Many people are being released on very short notice many months ahead of schedule right now, and finding themselves homeless and struggling in the midst of a very tumultuous time.
The principle of mutual support is not merely individual. Unchecked, the necessity and wisdom of the social distancing and quarantine can strongly reinforce this mindset. As organizations and communities, it can feel tempting to “circle the wagons” and “protect our own.”
We must (at safe distances) breathe deeply and find the roots of our morals. We must stay in touch with our spiritual or simply ethical beliefs. In fact, just staying in touch with these frameworks is not enough. We are not merely who we are when things are easy. We are not merely who we are when everything is going well. It is the times and moments when we are deeply, existentially challenged that define us.
This is that time for us as an organization. We have practices of not accepting residents in too rapid a succession, in order to support each incoming resident to get settled and stable. We have had plans of more in-house programming which were several months out, with very few of the details worked out. We had planned to finish off each room affected by our recent remodels completely before opening them to residents.
Our first instinct as the current quarantine emerged was to stop accepting residents. It felt safer. It felt better for our current residents. It felt like the prudent thing to do, to limit contact and not add more people from unknown backgrounds to an already-stressed house. Upon reflection and as the jails began to expedite departures, we very quickly realized that we had to do the opposite.
Our residents have stepped up in unbelievable ways, painting and installing trim day and night to make more rooms ready for people in need. Our staff are cheerfully working 12 hour days to address the current situation. The Friends House has accepted two new residents in the last day, and will take two more by Monday. None of these new residents have work, and even our residents who have work are currently laid-off for the foreseeable future. We have no idea how we will make the finances of these decisions work, but both as a recovery-oriented organization and as ethical individuals, this was the only course that we could take.
Tonight, months ahead of schedule and with two hours of notice, we ran our first in-house recovery program; an ad hoc NA meeting which was personal and powerful for everyone involved. Our staff all felt called, and in the absence of all normal NA and AA meetings, several residents requested that we do so. We will continue running daily programming, by the seat of our pants, in the variety of recovery modalities practiced by all our residents. We will be running NA, AA, Meditation-based, and whatever else our residents want every single night. It’s different from the normal support groups that we all go to, but it’s real, personal mutual support, and that’s what matters. It’s also laying a foundation for the future of our house and programming that, while grown out of turmoil, promises to be a beautiful, powerful, and resilient source of healing in our community.
Our residents are the heart of this. Their response, every single one, has been incredible. They are organizing and supporting each other in deeply personal, powerful ways. Each new incoming resident, some of whom are coming from very uncertain backgrounds, is personally and meaningfully welcomed to the house. If you want to know what it’s like to enter The Friends House these days, this is what it looks like (please forgive the video quality:)
Welcome home, Joe. We’re glad you’re here.
We could not be prouder of our residents, our staff, and our board. From these challenges, you are creating powerful and effective structures of healing and change.
May we all take this destabilizing crisis to be shaken into the growth that will serve us better moving forward than what we had before.
May we all support one another deeply and genuinely, and to act from our very best selves.