No need for mouthwash, even. Covid-19 world is a drinker’s paradise.
And — for recovering addicts and for the people around them — it’s a fresh hell.
“These are trying times, and it’s a cesspool of opportunity for addicts,” said Reginald Cunningham, a D.C. psychologist who works with people in recovery.
Across the nation, the church basements and community rooms that host the 12-step programs — group meetings that are the key to recovery for millions of addicts and those affected by their addiction — have closed.
Those creaky chairs on linoleum floors, the bad coffee and the fellowship are what keep so many people sober — and sane. I know this, having married into an AA family. I’ve seen the meetings work their magic.
A good group is home to a recovering addict, and there are all kinds to fit all people. Within my Capitol Hill neighborhood there’s Gay Group, We Agnostics, Koffee Klatch, High on the Hill, Fe Dos de Enero, Wake Up Sober and the Yeas and Nays. That one meets in a House congressional building. All are there to offer support.
I fear for the people who have lost them.
“We’ve been getting quite a few calls, let me say that,” said the woman at the D.C.-area AA helpline. “We have 1,600 meetings a week from D.C. to Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Virginia, and all of them are shut down. And I’m trying to keep it all straight, which one’s doing online, which one’s doing conference calls.”
Many of the meetings have moved online — Zoom is the new church basement.
And that, of course, brings concerns about anonymity and privacy.
There is a familiarity within groups that safeguard anonymity. How else could legislators at the Capitol Hill group feel safe to open up? Once online, it’s not easy to always know who is lurking.
Cunningham is continuing to see his patients virtually. He kept his Dupont Circle practice open until late Wednesday night, holding out until he made sure every patient was connected to a virtual meeting and was on a good path.
He admits that online meetings are not his favorite way to see patients. But he knows isolation can be an awful place for a recovering addict, and is urging everyone he knows in recovery to find ways to connect.
“Finding meetings online is paramount,” he said. “If you’re a sponsor, find ways to make a chat room. Make those phone calls.”
Not all addicts, of course, have access to webcams and quiet places for Zoom meetings.
This is where we come back to the ways that moneyed folks always have a better chance during a crisis.
But Cunningham said that all anyone needs to keep a 12-step program going is a phone — a Google search will give you a list of phone meetings available.
That’s what the Saturday Serenity group in Northern Virginia is doing, relying on their phone list to connect, even though they know it won’t be the same.
“The face-to-face meetings are what keep so many of us sane,” said Elizabeth from the Northern Virginia group, who introduces herself in the old traditions as “a grateful member of Al-Anon” and withholds her last name.
She knows folks will worry about the addict, the drinker who will slip during all these isolated days at home.
“But the family members are at risk just as much as the drinker,” Elizabeth said. “We can talk about the drinker. But the impact around the drinker is five times greater. It’s all these people — about five — around the drinker who we also should be worrying about.”
And that leads to another group in danger during these weird times.
Addiction is often the opening act for domestic violence. Some research has shown that 55 percent of domestic violence cases studied involved alcohol or drugs. And that’s by both the abuser and the victim.
What to do now that there’s no refuge such as work, school or public places to break up the intimacy that can lead to violence?
“We know that domestic violence takes no break, even at times like these,” said Karma Cottman, executive director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “In fact, families will likely now be facing even more stressors with lost work, closed schools and the realities of this illness.”
Coalition members as well as other groups also have moved to virtual meetings and have opened up their phone lines to continue counseling. They know many people are coming their way.
Fortunately as the D.C. Council was moving to radically change laws to allow the delivery of alcohol to help save small businesses, it also extended restraining orders until May 1.
That’s a start. More is needed.
It’s time for us to come together as we socially distance. You know who is in trouble, who may be thinking of having a drink, who is tired of fighting with someone who wants to have a drink, who is worried about their safety.
This isn’t a time to mind our own business. Nope. We need to make the calls, text our struggling friends, check in on them.
I know we have the time.
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