I would like to start this article with a disclaimer, what you are about to read is personal opinion and I encourage debate and feedback from anyone who feels strongly enough to respond.
Anyone that knows me, and as my drug and alcohol key worker has commented on more than one occasion, I put a massive amount of work into my recovery and that is why I am not just abstinent but thriving in my new life. I think that being fearless in facing yourself, your fears, your life and life choices are central to any form of recovery. This is not by any means easy or at times pleasant but the rewards you reap from doing this know almost no boundaries. I sit here eight months clean, to the day, after 19 years of active addiction that started when I was 13 years old and ended with the classics – needles, speedballs, homelessness and more abuse, but that’s another article in itself.
I think that this lockdown is challenging for everyone both in and out of recovery. I have nothing but gratitude that I am not currently in active addiction because I can only imagine how hard these times must be for so many who are. I think, for me, a part of living not just in recovery but with mental illness is taking each day as it comes, each day I wake up and do a mini-assessment of myself; how am I feeling? What challenges will this create? What do I need to do today? Will I be able to complete these things? What do I want to do today? It helps me not to focus on the long term too much. Of course, I have an idea of where I want my life to go and have plans for the future, but I have to focus on living in the here and now to manage my emotions, addiction and mental health. Therefore, adjusting to lockdown for me has not perhaps been as big an adjustment as for those who are not used to already living like this. Those who go about their lives without needing to take each day as it comes, that are used to having more control over their lives and do not have to live with possibility that they might wake up the next day with their entire internal world in a different state, might find it harder to adjust to the lockdown.
That is not to say that being just with myself in my own head for what is now months hasn’t brought its own challenges, but I am sure that if this had been a year ago, my life and reaction to lock down would have been far more challenging! I can only imagine what being locked together has done for so many relationships! Nothing like being together 24 hours a day in a shared space to make us aware of the positives and negatives of our relationships. And I say this from experience, although it’s me, myself and I at the moment, I spent 3 and a half years with a man who insisted on us being together 24 hours a day, which is part of the reason I now reside in a women’s refuge and I can only imagine what lockdown has done for those people still trapped in an abusive relationships! I was told by an evening/weekend worker at my refuge, who works for a different organisation during the week, that the police have unofficially told her the murder rate for abused women has increased, a depressing but not surprising fact. She expressed gratitude that none of their particular clients had been killed and I couldn’t help but notice that she ended the sentence with “yet”.
In my opinion whatever works for you is okay, be that 12 step, counselling, SMART recovery (cognitive behavioural approach), intuitive recovery, mindfulness or, if you are like me, perhaps a bit from everything. Combined with luck, support and the right timing, whatever it is, you have to grab the opportunities, the help, the support available, be willing to put the work in and hold onto it with a death grip and not let go! Never let go of the desire to change because once you have, and I know/knew people who let go, it never ends well. Generally, with homelessness and death.
For me, recovery is based around self-awareness and the ability to accept and critique yourself, however, this is not an easy thing to do and it is not simple to maintain balance between the criticism and our egos. But I suppose I wish that those who subscribe to a 12 step programme would be more open to people’s choices to follow a different path to recovery. Personally, I do not use a 12 step approach in my recovery, as I struggle with the rigid structure and religious nature of the programme. That being said it brings an enormous amount of community and support to a lot of people, and friends of mine have been massively helped by various 12 step fellowships in part due to the sheer number and wide range of different fellowships that exist!
I’ve recently started reading a book about trauma called The Body Keeps The Score by Bessek Van Der Kolk which says “I have no preferred treatment modality, as no single approach fits everybody”. I think it is fair to say that addiction is traumatic and in my opinion a lot of people who turn to addiction have experienced various trauma both prior to and as a result of their addiction. I feel that in an ideal world the approach that Van Der Kolk takes in his book to treating trauma would be offered to addicts. In my experience drug and alcohol services are moving towards a more holistic approach for the people that walk through their doors. However, they tend to be underfunded and one service massively differs from the next depending on management. Organisations such as SCT make such a massive difference in the lives of the people they help, and are an amazing example of a holistic approach to recovery.
Of course, technology is a godsend, especially in a lockdown! Video calls, WhatsApp and Zoom have made an enormous difference to myself and almost everyone I know. I can only shudder at the thought of my mental state without these things. This and a free month of both Amazon Prime and two free months of Audible audiobooks have helped – and no I am not being paid to name drop! This is despite my personal protest and refusal to use Amazon since being employed in their Prague warehouse as a picker (a job that pushed me to the point that I’ve started shouting at the TV when Amazon employment adverts come on). I did look back at my account and realised that I haven’t ordered anything from them since 2014! I know that I can always cancel Prime 29 days into the free trial, and 1 month and 29 days into Audible and in that way still not give Amazon any of my money. I feel I have given them enough of my time as an employee!
Nonetheless, technology means my counselling sessions continue, as do the weekly groups that we have at the refuge and I am able to stay in touch and have regular check ins with my key workers. And I gather that online NA (Narcotics Anonymous), AA (Alcohol Anonymous) or whichever ‘A’ you frequent also have regular zoom or online meetings. Nothing can replace the hugs which a lot of the people like at meetings, but personally I struggled with them during my time at NA. I really do love a good hug but I struggle with physical contact with people I do not know and/or trust and have offended more than one anon-er by refusing to hug them or sticking out my hand for a handshake as they went to bring it in. But I do miss physical contact, now more than ever.
Otherwise thanks to progression funding from SCT I have my double bass, which I am learning through the East London Late Starters Orchestra (ELLSO), another amazing organisation, who have started weekly Zoom lessons. They are affordable and have a sliding scale approach to fees and I thoroughly recommend anyone wanting to learn a string instrument to give them, or one of their national/international offshoots a try. What I am trying to say is I am trying to stay busy-ish. I am lucky enough to have a garden, which I occasionally use, nothing better now the weather is warm than an audiobook and some mindful colouring in, in the sunshine! I am surprised as an adult how strangely satisfying it is to play with contrasting and complimentary colours. I have also been experimenting with bleaching and dying my hair, so far it has been purple and turquoise since Covid-19 first came to the UK. It’s a process which takes a few days and can be both fun and creative, I am thinking about fluorescent green for when my hair grows long enough to bleach again.
I think, as with all unprecedented times, staying positive yet realistic is important, and accepting that if you are on your own for extended periods of time it is perfectly normal to talk to yourself out loud. As someone who enjoys learning new things and challenging myself, a spirit I particularly embraced in my ketamine phase (joking) I try to use these parts of myself to motivate and entertain myself both in lockdown and recovery. Learning that it is ok to accept help means that the support of Solace Woman’s Aid (in so many different ways), my drug and alcohol worker, The Dogs Trust Freedom Project (for fostering my dog until I move again), SCT, my GP and Psychiatrist at the Margaret Centre, and my family and friends has become incredibly important in my life and recovery never more so in this time of increased isolation and lockdown, I thank you all. Addiction is incredibly hard to overcome and the statistics do not go in our favour, however, no matter what method/approach you use it is not possible to do it alone! Trust me I tried! However, no one can do it for you either, unfortunately the hard work is yours alone to do, you just don’t have to do it alone. Stay connected, stay positive, stay busy and look after yourself, embracing self-care is a good beginning on the road to self-acceptance. Addiction recovery is hard but it really does show you who you are, the good, the bad and the beautiful! It is in us all.
By Dada Schling
For someone struggling with addiction, community is a big part of being in recovery. Since the coronavirus outbreak began and social distancing became normal, recovery has become more challenging. This is part of a series of stories reflecting on these new challenges during lockdown, you can read more here.