Getting too caught up in one’s own head is a pretty common force of habit for people who suffer with chemical dependence. Sometimes those thoughts are centered around specific issues, such as being hung up on relationships, work, or family problems. Other times it’s just aimless frustration and anxiety roiling around unchecked. So it’s no wonder that drugs and alcohol become so alluring as blunt-force solutions; they are undeniably effective at silencing psychiatric discomfort. Unfortunately, they also tend to exacerbate the problems they purport to solve. As use of substances increases, isolation usually increases as well. And isolation’s side effects drive even more use. It’s a self-perpetuating downward spiral, and with the ongoing social distancing we’re seeing with COVID-19, recovering addicts need to keep an acute eye on their own levels of isolation.

The Downward Spiral of Isolation

The Danger of Relapse

One of the main tenants of working a program after rehab typically requires people in recovery to meet in close quarters. With this support network changed with the pandemic (it’s not gone!), many in the fellowship find themselves becoming complacent. Online meetings don’t have the same built-in requirements of dedication and focus that in person meetings do. Closing a laptop has much less resistance than bouncing from a meeting to drive home early, so it’s understandable that they have lower retention rates.

Online meetings also miss the crucial element of body language and how physical presence compels us to be more mentally checked in. So as so many aspects of the fellowship are stripped away, recovering addicts have largely been left to their own devices. This is never a good thing. It takes a lot of mental strength to keep the brain from returning to old thought patterns as it lacks the positive reinforcement of a recovery environment. This is because chemical dependence comes as a result of trying to silence our real selves.

“That which stirs within, slows or quickens, goes deep or dies out. When I speak of spirit, I am not speaking of something related to or given by a force outside ourselves. I am speaking of the force that is ourselves. The experience of living in this world, bound by a body, space, and time, woven into the fabric of human history, human connection and human life. This is the force that feels, and thinks and gives us consciousness at all. It is the deepest, most elemental, most integral part of who we are; it is who we are.”

― Marya Hornbacher, Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power

This deeply spiritual outlook of connection and interpersonal understanding dissipates under the crushing weight of isolation.

Creating a Healthy Environment

In isolation, we feel disconnected, hopeless, and left out to dry. That’s why now, more than ever, it’s important for addicts in recovery to take initiative and set up their routines to include whatever modified forms of fellowship they have access to. That might mean virtual meetings, video conferencing with a sponsor, or texting your local meeting’s phone tree. But it also includes rituals that feed into a more positive state of mind. Some ideas that may help:

  • Daily gratitudes
  • Reading one chapter of the big book a day (or even just a few pages!)
  • Playing the tape
  • Journaling
  • Regular HALT checks

Setting these into a daily routine helps to establish a positive environment for staying clean and sober during isolation. This nips the spiral in the bud and makes sure that relapse doesn’t become the new problem to deal with (because it can get ugly very quickly). If you or a loved one is seeking help for a substance abuse problem, our counselors are available 24/7 by phone: 855-737-7363