The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments all over the world to set out various safety measures to try to mitigate the impacts of the virus. It has been especially crucial for people to socially distance themselves to slow the spread of the virus.
Being confined to our homes is a disruption to most of our lives and for others it can be a dangerous threat, including alcoholics and drug addicts.
The banning of social gatherings has required recovery communities to stop their support group meetings. Many recovering addicts rely on fellowship meetings, such as the 12-Step Program meetings, as a vital source of emotional and spiritual support to stay sober.
Ashennontie Diabo, who has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for 14 years and who has been sober for three years now, began organizing regular support group meetings about a month ago around the time stricter regulations for social distancing were implemented. He streams the meetings live on his Facebook page and then posts the recorded stream video.
The videos and live streams on Diabo’s page are public so anyone can watch them.
“When I started the meetings during COVID-19 I did it to help people because I knew if I were in that position all hell would break loose,” he said. Group meetings are “a support hub and I share my own opinion and experience and how I felt. For someone to hear it and have it ring true to them is what I’m going for.”
Diabo also feels that these online meetings could serve to reduce the stigma around the 12- Step Program and that they could get people that are early in their sobriety to be more open to the idea of joining the face-to-face support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, after the social distance regulations are lifted.
“It’s opening the door to people that don’t know what meetings are all about and it’s there for support,” he said
Jon McComber, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, has been sober for five years. McComber co-hosts and attends Zoom meetings regularly. Some of the people that watched the meetings said that they listened to it and related to it. “Some of them even stopped drinking for a time,” he said.
McComber and Diabo both said people could message them on Facebook if they are interested in getting more information about the online meetings.
Don Barnaby has been sober for 21 years. He has a different way of helping himself stay focused on his sobriety.
“In the beginning I used to go to a lot of AA meetings, I went on spiritual retreats, but I think what was best for me was I had to go back to the old ways of life so I could live a new way of life. I immersed myself in ceremony and traditions and following teachings from elders,” he said.
“In order to do ceremony you have to be sober for four days. That’s another thing that keeps me sober – I have a responsibility to the people. I have to stay clean and sober.”
Barnaby sympathizes with those who are trying to become newly sober. He mentioned a few Facebook support groups that he engages with like the “Sober Indianz,” which serves to connect Indigenous people through promoting and celebrating sobriety through peoples’ success stories.
“I call that HOPE. Hearing Other Peoples’ Experiences,” as he explains the acronym he came up with. “That gives me hope. Talk to your elders, ask for teachings and medicine. Ask people to pray for you. Put your faith to work. That’s the best thing you can do.”
Nancy Worth, clinical supervisor for the addictions respond services team at Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) explained that KSCS is abiding by the COVID-19 guidelines, but are still offering their services.
“Workers have reached out to their clients. We offer regular appointments over the phone, over Zoom and different digital platforms. We are putting out a lot of information to reach the community like through Facebook. Our prevention worker is posting regularly about coping strategies and recovery skills.”
When asked if those struggling with drug and alcohol abuse could be at a higher risk of relapsing during the pandemic, she said “People are more isolated and may be feeling lonely, bored, insecure, or have more anxiety, and sometimes those factors contribute to a risk of relapse. We are only going to see post-pandemic how people have really managed to cope and survive through these tough times.”
Worth mentioned that aside from KSCS offering Zoom group and individual meetings and appointments, the Onen’tó:kon Healing Lodge is offering telephone counselling.
The Zoom support group run by KSCS is hosted “with an elder from the community offering a lot of traditional teachings,” she said.
Worth encourages people to do research on online support groups and meetings. For more information on resources and services, contact KSCS or see their Facebook page.
Worth said it is important to “stay connected to family members, to friends. Reach out when you can to keep those lines of communications. Talk regularly. Use the time to research those groups. Don’t stay with your fears and discomforts and insecurities.”